Home Nations World Cup Qualifiers
There’s no two ways about it: this has been a disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We have known their fate for some time – long before this final round of games.
But at least there is now some real optimism in the Scottish camp. It would be good if they could notch up their first home victory of the campaign against Croatia tomorrow night (Coral go 11/5), but even if they don’t, there have been some encouraging signs of progress under Gordon Strachan, not to mention some decent results in recent months.
As you would expect, they raised their game against England at Wembley, losing to the odd goal in five, but there were also two good Group A away wins – in Macedonia and Croatia – and they were by no means disgraced against the crack Belgian outfit.
With Croatia perhaps intending to rest some of their star players ahead of their all-important play-off match next month (they have a whole bunch of players one yellow card away from suspension, including Luka Modric) you can argue that Scotland have a better chance of beating them at Hampden than when they beat them 1-0 on their own patch in June when, incidentally, their opponents were ranked the fourth best team in the world.
A repeat result is 9/1 with Coral and Norwich winger Robert Snodgrass, who scored the winner in Zagreb, is 11/4 to get on the scoresheet again, 8/1 first or last.
Even a draw would probably enable Scotland to finish above Wales in the group with Chris Coleman’s side facing a daunting trip to Belgium (1/6), who will surely prove too strong even if some key players are rested.
Both Scotland and Wales face hard roads ahead if they are to qualify for the 2016 Euros, but at least there is some light at the end of the tunnel, whereas it is all pretty black at the moment for Northern Ireland following successive depressing defeats against traditional European whipping boys, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.
A win in Israel tomorrow would be welcome respite (Coral go 6/1) and might not be out of the question. It is only two months since Michael O’Neill’s side beat probable Group F winners, Russia, so they aren’t a lost cause, while their opponents, guaranteed third place, have nothing to play for and little to prove.