The group currently has Poland on top on 14 points followed by Germany on 13, Scotland on 11 and the Irish on 11 so if second from bottom Georgia could surprise the Scots in Tbilisi while the Irish are living up to billing by beating Gibraltar in Faro, it would mean Martin O’Neill’s men would be back in real contention, on the table at least, for a third-place finish and possible qualification for the play-offs. And it could get even better four days later, if Ireland can secure maximum points in Dublin against the Georgians while Scotland have to contend with the visit of Germany to Hampden Park.
Haunted by the memory of a shock 2-0 defeat in Tbilisi under Alex McLeish which contributed to the Scots failing to qualify for Euro 2008, the Tartan Army will be hoping they keep their latest Euro qualification effort firmly on track this time. But Gordon Strachan, declining to describe it as a must-win game, warned his side won’t have it easy away to Georgians.
“You never know when the real big game is, but it will be a tough game,” he said. “If anybody wants to know how Georgia are playing, look at a video of their last game, a 4-0 loss against Poland - but three goals came in the last six minutes, I think..”
However, Strachan was much more upbeat about the player options available to him when he unveiled his sqaud for the Georgia and Germany double-header yesterday.
“Two years ago it was easy to pick the Scotland squad, now it’s getting harder and harder,” he said. “I hate disappointing people but I’ve also made a lot of guys happy too.” Among the happy people is Stuart Armstrong, the only uncapped player in the squad, who joins his in-form Celtic colleague Leigh Griffiths in the 26-man panel.
With the return of Derby striker Chris Martin and Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor, there are 10 English Premier League players in the latest squad, nine from the Championship and six from the Scottish Premiership. Chicago Fire’s Shaun Maloney is the only player outside of the UK.
Craig Gordon (Celtic), David Marshall (Cardiff City), Allan McGregor (Hull City), Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town), Craig Forsyth (Derby County), Gordon Greer (Brighton & Hove Albion), Grant Hanley (Blackburn Rovers), Alan Hutton (Aston Villa), Russell Martin (Norwich City), Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic), Andrew Robertson (Hull City), Steven Whittaker (Norwich City), Ikechi Anya (Watford), Stuart Armstrong (Celtic), Scott Brown (Celtic), Darren Fletcher (West Bromwich Albion), James Forrest (Celtic), Shaun Maloney (Chicago Fire), James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion), James McArthur (Crystal Palace), Matt Ritchie (AFC Bournemouth), Johnny Russell (Derby County), Steven Fletcher (Sunderland), Leigh Griffiths (Celtic), Chris Martin (Derby County), Steven Naismith (Everton).