5 things we learned from Scotland’s World Cup qualifying campaign

09 October 2017 04:31

Another World Cup qualifying bid ended in misery for Scotland after a 2-2 draw in Slovenia saw them miss out on second place in Group F on goal difference.

After picking up four points from their opening four games, Scotland finished on 18 points after going unbeaten in their final six matches.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at five things we learned from the campaign.

Leigh Griffiths is truly international class

The Celtic striker only played 15 minutes of Scotland’s Euro 2016 campaign and did not start any of the first three matches of this group, despite hitting 40 goals the season before it began.

He was eventually given the nod against England at Wembley and quickly showed what he could do with a run in the team. The 27-year-old took his tally to four goals in the last five matches with a clinical finish against Slovenia.

He also hit the woodwork three times in the campaign and his stunning free-kick double against England at Hampden earmarked him as the team’s talisman.

Club fringe players cannot compete at international level

Grant Hanley has yet to establish himself in the Newcastle United team this season
Grant Hanley has yet to establish himself in the Newcastle United team this season (Richard Sellers/PA)

Manager Gordon Strachan admitted that himself, despite being happy with how Alan Hutton previously played while an Aston Villa outcast.

It took Strachan some time to accept that players needed to be featuring regularly for their clubs, though, as Grant Hanley started the first four matches despite failing to establish himself as a Newcastle regular following his move to Blackburn.

After losing eight goals in those games, Scotland have kept four clean sheets in six qualifiers since.

Scotland need new blood in central defence

Leeds United captain Liam Cooper is on the verge of making his Scotland debut
Leeds United captain Liam Cooper is on the verge of making his Scotland debut (Clint Hughes/EMPICS Sport)

With Hanley now failing to make the Norwich team along with Russell Martin, Strachan has seen his options at centre-back depleted.

Christophe Berra and Charlie Mulgrew have done well since being paired up as Scotland’s campaign turned around, and at 32 and 31 respectively they look to have another campaign in them.

But Scotland will need to blood some alternatives should either get injured or suffer a loss of form. Leeds skipper Liam Cooper is likely to be given his first cap after being called up for several squads while 21-year-old Liam Lindsay’s progress at Sky Bet Championship club Barnsley will surely be closely monitored.

Familiarity can help

Celtic skipper Scott Brown may consider his international future following Scotland's failure to qualify for next summer's World Cup
Celtic skipper Scott Brown may consider his international future following Scotland’s failure to qualify for next summer’s World Cup (Jeff Holmes/EMPICS Sport)

Scotland benefited from Celtic’s transformation under Brendan Rodgers with six of the Scottish champions’ team starting against Slovenia at Hampden for the victory which turned the team’s fortunes around.

Former Celtic player Mulgrew also returned to the fold after injury. Recent World Cup winners Spain and Germany had a strong core from Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively and the understanding between the players was evident for much of the second half of Scotland’s campaign.

Skipper Scott Brown is likely to consider his international future but his club-mate Callum McGregor is likely to get his chance soon.

Kieran Tierney and Stuart Armstrong will win a host of caps

Celtic midfielder Stuart Armstrong has impressed during the qualifiers
Celtic midfielder Stuart Armstrong has impressed during the qualifiers (Martin Rickett/PA)

The Celtic pair are the only two players to really force their way in since the campaign started with a 5-1 victory against Malta in September 2016. Tierney has been shifted to right-back given the form of Andy Robertson and the lack of options there since Callum Paterson suffered a serious knee injury.

The latter could come back into the reckoning as Tierney is definitely less effective on his weaker side, but the Parkhead left-back could be utilised in his natural position if Robertson struggles for game time at Liverpool.

Armstrong made a stunning debut by setting up Chris Martin’s late winner against Slovenia and has the tactical nous to be an important international player.

Source: By PA Sport Staff