Wednesday, 12 September 2007A day that every Scot remembers, a day every Scotsman dreams of.
On that night in Paris, the incredible happened. Scotland beat France. James McFadden scored an absolute screamer, and the Clyde radio commentator went nuts. Not only that, but this meant we also did the double over one of the best teams in the world - France.
At this stage, we were on the verge of qualifying for our first major tournament since 1998, from a group that included the two World Cup finalists. But that never happened, a late Italy goal broke Scottish hearts, and our hopes of qualifying for any tournament since have looked slim.
Sure there was the last Euro qualifiers. We were drawn again with the World Champions, this time Spain, and again came within a few points of a playoff spot, but again, that never happened, a dubious referee decision and a dive cost us a vital 3 points and we lost out to the Czech Republic.
Lately, we have looked dreadful. We often looked like we simply did not want to win, to score even, as if all that Tartan Army passion had gone. We suffered the worst possible start to our latest qualifying campaign. And following two winnable home draws, Craig Levein was sacked.
Gordon Strachan has come in since and done what Levein and many of his predecessors were scared to do; he has replaced the old Scottish faithful with new, lesser known youngsters. And that is going to be the topic for this article.
Tonight, although our qualifying chances were done, we did the incredible. Again. Maybe we did not beat the world champions and maybe it was not a screamer of a goal, but it really was special to a Scot like me. Tonight we beat the 4th best team in the world on their own turf. It may have meant nothing to us and may have been way more important to Croatia, but it was special, and for the first time in a long time, I was able to watch the match draw to a close thinking, "we played well".
But as I was watching this match, I began to think to myself. Are we really making steps forward? Is it right to replace our trusted heroes like Miller and Caldwell with younger, inexperienced players like Leigh Griffiths?
From the team that beat France six years ago, only Hutton played tonight. Even more interesting is that from the starting line up of our first qualifying game this campaign, a goalless draw against Serbia almost a year ago, just four of the starting line up from that game started tonight. Players like Grant Hanley and Russell Martin were rarely looked at by Levein, yet are regular starters under Strachan. Hutton was our most capped player tonight, with just 21 caps. And yet the difference between our play tonight and then is incredible.
But my question is: Is Strachan moving us in the right direction with a more fearless approach or should we revert back to the Tartan Army Faithful?
Think about it, we have an accomplished Premier League striker in Steven Fletcher who Craig Levein always refused to apologise to in order to get him to return to internationals. Yet Strachan did so almost immediately. Tonight, we had an English born captain, James Morrison. Considering the rivalry between the two countries that takes major courage to do and I admire him even more for it. Players like Liam Bridcutt and George Boyd were given their first caps in crucial qualifiers. Again, that takes guts. And in my opinion, he has done the right thing. These players have proven themselves at club level, with Boyd recently sealing a move to Premier League new-boys Hull City, so why shouldn't they play for us?
As much as every Scots fan loves players like Kenny Miller, James McFadden and Gary Caldwell, they are past their best now and should step aside and let the youngsters take their place. We have some amazing youngsters currently who, if developed right, can become superstars for club and country and hopefully lead us to glory. The last time Scotland qualified for a major tournament was the year I was born, and I would like to see us in a major tournament again before I die.
I seriously hope that Strachan sticks with this gutsy approach, and, should he stay for the next few years, we have some amazing prospects who could be the next national hero. Jack Harper, a striker for the Real Madrid youth team and Islam Feruz, the 17 year old Chelsea striker who has already scored twice for the U21 side, are amongst our finest prospects, and I hope Strachan and U21 coach Billy Stark stay long enough to nurture these players into international heroes.
We'll be coming down the road
I hope you enjoyed my first article and that it wasn't too hard to read. Feedback and constructive criticism are always appreciated and I would love to know your opinion, whether you're Scottish or not, tell me what you think. Thanks!