The Away End continue the countdown to the new season with a selection of previews. Gordon Sheach makes his debut on the site with a preview of Scotland's World Cup qualifying campaign....
Where Were We?
As has become routine for Scotland fans, another major tournament came and went this summer without Scottish involvement, the seventh in a row. Scotland fans even had to put up with the Irish taking our “shame about the team but weren’t their fans brilliant” crown!
Despite an upturn in results towards the end of Euro 2012 qualifying, Scotland again fell short. Needing three wins out of our final four qualifiers, we managed two wins and a draw. While fans will understandably point to the theatrics of a certain Mr Rezek at Hampden, the seeds were sown long before with unambitious performances in Kaunas and Prague. Despite some people making light of Spain occasionally playing a striker less system at Euro 2012, many fans won’t forgive Levein for his 4-6-0 experiment in Prague.
For me, I think Levein now has more faith in the team and is ready to take us on the road to Rio in a more positive manner. Hopefully the August friendly with Australia at Easter Road will be used as a showcase for the manner in which we will kick off World Cup 2014 qualifying in September.
Where are we going?
Where are we going?
After the Australia friendly, our first competitive matches see us play a home double header against Serbia and Macedonia in September. A good start is essential and these two home games give us a great chance to make one. It’s been two campaigns since we started with a win. I believe the opposition shouldn’t hold any fear for us; with Vidic retired from international football and ex Wales manager John Toshack in charge of Macedonia, I feel we need to aim for at least four points, if not six.
In October we then travel to Wales and Belgium for an away double header. It’s hard to know which Wales team will turn up. Towards the end of Euro 2012 qualifying, Wales were a team reborn, winning three out of their last four. However, if any of Bale, Ramsey or Bellamy miss out I feel we can confidently target a vital away win.
The away game against Belgium is even harder to predict. On paper, Belgium look an intimidating prospect. Kompany, Fellaini and Chelsea new boy Eden Hazard and others amount to an incredibly talented group of players. However, in Euro 2012 qualifying a draw against Austria, a loss and a draw against Turkey and a shocking draw with Azerbaijan certainly gives hope that perhaps this Belgium side might not add up to a sum of its parts.
With any luck, we could be celebrating the New Year with 9/10 points out of a possible 12. Unrealistic? Maybe. Possible? Definitely. Despite that, we need to take advantage of the fact we don’t play probable group favourites Croatia until our seventh game (through a quirk in the fixtures we will already have played Wales and Serbia twice by that point).
Who’s in? Who is Ready to Stand Out in 2012/13?
Jordan Rhodes – An obvious choice, but an awful lot is expected of the 22 year old Huddersfield striker in 2012/13. After 43 goals for club and country last season, and with the striker pool not exactly overflowing with talent, many Scotland fans feel Jordan can become first choice this year if he can continue his scoring form at the higher level of the Championship.
James Forrest – Another young player of whom a lot is expected of this year. After collecting almost every Young Player of the Year Award going in 2011/12, Scotland fans will be hoping James can build on his experience with a run in Europe for Celtic which can only benefit him for Scotland.
Charlie Mulgrew – 2011/12 was a breakthrough year for Charlie. The current PFA Player of the Year will look to forcibly divorce Caldwell and Berra’s marriage of convenience at the heart of Scotland’s defence. With the added threat he brings from set pieces, you’d be surprised if Mulgrew didn’t get a run in the side.
Steven Naismith – While not new to the set-up, Steven will be looking to add to his 15 caps to date in 2012/13, having missed most of 11/12 through injury. Back to fitness and having made the move to Everton, he will be relishing linking up with Nikica Jelavic again. If he can find his form and thrive in the Barclay’s Premier League he will be perfectly placed to become a key man for Scotland, especially if he finds the scoring form that has saw him outscoring Jelavic before his injury last November.
As always, we enter another qualifying campaign full of hope tempered with uncertainty. It’s impossible to tell where the expectation lies among the fans. Looking at our group, we could realistically finish top or bottom. While Croatia and Belgium will offer a serious examination, there is no dominant force in the group in the mould of Spain or The Netherlands. There is no team we should expect to lose to. It sounds cliché (mainly because it is) but so long as we can win our home games and keep points ticking over away from home, we’ll be in with a shout of at least a play-off spot.
As always, it will be difficult to second guess Craig Levein. He will continue to (controversially) spread the net far and wide all the while potentially continuing the international exiles of players such as Steven Fletcher and Ross McCormack.
There is one thing we can be sure of. With a full qualifying campaign to his name, and as the longest serving manager in the group, there can be no more excuses for Levein. Team selection, tactics and results should be more reliable this time round and if they’re not I can see fan patience running thin quickly.
In saying that, I personally can’t wait to get back to watching Scotland again! In the words of Ronnie Brown, COME ONNN!!!
Vote in this month's poll on the right hand side of the website - Can Craig Levein lead Scotland to Brazil 2014?