Scotland’s national football team are due to meet England in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers at Hampden Park this weekend.
It might not be a case of England being there for the taking but Courier Sport has found three reasons that they might not be quite as daunting an opponent as might be thought.
It has been spoken about often enough and for long enough but it now appears that Wayne Rooney has played his last game for his country. Plenty of England supporters – like Manchester United ones – think their football team will be better off without him. Long-term, they could be right. But there will still be a Rooney-less adjustment period. For all that he disappointed in championship finals, the fact that he is England’s top goalscorer of all time tells you how prolific he was in qualifiers. Yes, Rooney was left out of England’s last double-header, but that was a friendly and a home game against Lithuania. Hampden on Saturday will be an entirely different proposition – one in which leadership may be an issue. Rooney was England’s skipper and talisman for so long that, if the match turns into a close-fought one, his absence could be felt. Gareth Southgate’s squad is overflowing with English Premier League regulars but none of them strike you as born leaders. Say what you like about Scott Brown and Darren Fletcher as players, but that is one area in which Scotland are not lacking.
Home and dry
Southgate won’t say it but England have all but booked their place at Russia 2018. A four-point lead at the top of Group F isn’t going to be clawed back. Combined with the timing of this game, a bit of a let-up from England would be understandable. In fact, for the pampered Premier League multi-millionaires Hampden could be viewed as a holiday-delaying inconvenience. There is absolutely no doubt about which team needs a win more and probably not much doubt about which team will want it more, either. It might not be the most significant one, but desire has to be a factor of some relevance.
More vulnerable on the road (a bit)
This might not be the most substantial straw to grasp hold of but it’s a straw nonetheless. England are better at Wembley. It’s all relative, of course. Home and away they have only lost six European Championship and World Cup qualifiers this century – and none since 2009. But, as impressive as that statistic undoubtedly is, it’s not as stunning as the 21-game unbeaten home run in World Cup qualification matches, the last defeat coming in 2000 against Germany. Recent history backs up the perception that mid-level nations like Scotland stand a chance against England on their own turf. It took a 95th minute Adam Lallana goal to see off Slovakia in Sam Allardyce’s one and only match in charge. That and Big Sam’s lucky coin (chucked in the Thames a few weeks later, you would presume). Southgate – then caretaker boss – had Joe Hart to thank for a 0-0 in Slovenia a month later. Slovenia and Slovakia are Scottish standard teams. If those two can give England a game in front of their own people, so should we expect to.