The propaganda war is over, said Gordon Strachan yesterday.
Except it wasn’t. Not quite.
Scotland’s manager has always been a wily media operator and he knew better than anyone the narrative over this unique Group D encounter required more massaging.
In particular, the question over who would feel more at home at Celtic Park.
“That’s Scottish territory and you’ll know it’s Scottish territory,” he insisted at the team’s stately Mar Hall base. “There will be 55,000 Scotsmen in there. You’ll be in no doubt where you are tomorrow. You’re in Scotland and Scotland are playing … against Ireland.”
Chat to local Celtic fans in these parts and that picture blurs. Links to the ‘old country’ continue to run deep for those Scots with Irish blood and it hasn’t been unusual to hear people with thick Glasgow accents talk of mixed feelings ahead of tonight’s kick-off.
Either way, the scene is set.
The decision to play this game in Celtic’s home and not that of Rangers may appear to be an odd one, but it was a decision taken on the simple basis that it would allow as many fans as possible take in the occasion at first-hand.
This will be the biggest crowd to watch Scotland at home in a quarter of a century and, while Strachan was involved in deciding the venue, he stressed this would not be a facsimile of some of Celtic’s great days and nights there.
“It’s different people. I believe the atmosphere will be terrific, but in a different way. There are a lot of things that will be different. (This) is Scotland. I know what is coming,
“It will inspire all the players. It will manage to get another few per cent out of them. They can drink all the water they want, eat all the carbohydrates they want, but the extra bit tomorrow will come from our fans.”
It is a game that has captured the public’s imagination. Strachan remarked earlier this week on how it had overshadowed even next Tuesday’s meeting with England, which also takes place at Celtic Park, and preparations have been reassuringly smooth.
James MacArthur aside, injury worries have been limited to knocks and niggles and Strachan has been canny enough not to overload his players who were handed the day off on Wednesday. Management, too.
Strachan made for the cinema and took in the mind-bending sci-fi movie ‘Interstellar’ starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, which must have made the complexities of games like tonight’s seem like child’s play by comparison.
“I was there for about three hours with (assistant manager Mark) McGhee. He was explaining the theory of relativity and sound and aging and all the rest. My head was buzzing by the time I got back.”
All systems are go.
Questions relating to the hotel incident involving Roy Keane were summarily dismissed, the absence of James McCarthy and Marc Wilson glossed over.
Powderpuff entreaties to wax lyrical about any of Ireland’s players were ignored.
As he said, the propaganda war is over. Strachan will allow himself to stop and savour the atmosphere for no more than a second or two shortly before 7.45pm tonight.
Everything either side of it is business.
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