Gordon Strachan admits Scotland’s forthcoming joust with traditional rivals England at Celtic Park will play second fiddle to their European Championship qualifying clash with Republic of Ireland four days earlier.
For a century and more, the annual meeting with the Auld Enemy was the highlight of the international football calendar for many of the Tartan Army.
It was disbanded for various reasons in 1989, since which time the teams have met at Euro 1996 and in a two-legged European Championship play-off in 1999, with the fixture then resurrected last year in the shape of a challenge at Wembley and the reciprocal game arranged for November 18 at Parkhead.
However, the Scotland boss believes the match against the Irish at the same venue is “absolutely” the most important. Speaking at Celtic Park, where his 27-man squad for both games was announced — Rangers’ 20-year-old midfielder Lewis Macleod was given his first call-up — Strachan said: “Six or seven months ago, we were speaking about tickets for the England game.
“It’s not happened that way in the last couple of months. It’s all been about Republic of Ireland. I really didn’t know I had that many friends in the Republic — it’s wonderful. Thanks for your enquiries — but no.
“Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Republic game has overshadowed England it in a way, which is great because it means there are things going on here. Sometimes if you just hang in to the Scotland v England game that is all you have to look forward to. But it is not. It is one of these big games we play, which is good.”
The meeting with fellow former Celtic boss Martin O’Neill, though, is taking precedence, and he believes the backing of the Scotland fans makes his side a match for anyone.
“I think we are all looking forward to the atmosphere,” he said. “I think the atmosphere at Ibrox (for the Georgia game) was terrific — it definitely helped us.
“It is going to be great here as well. The performance is helped by our fans. Between us we can beat anybody. I am sure Martin is looking forward to it as well. We have been back to manage an all-star selects with 60,000 people here so that was good.”
Ireland are behind Group D leaders Poland on goal difference with seven points from three games, while the Scots are in fourth place behind Germany with both teams on four points. However, Strachan was reluctant to indulge in arithmetical gymnastics.
“You never know when the big points come along,” he said. “All you can do is put in a performance. If we can get three points that’s great. We probably think we should have had more points, but look at Germany — I think they have had about 80 attempts at goal in three games so they can count themselves unlucky.”
The inclusion of Gers star Macleod, who has scored seven times for the Championship side this season, was the only real surprise in Strachan’s squad.
The former Southampton manager claimed Macleod need only to look at left-back Andy Robertson to see that he is “not only there to make up the numbers”.
As a Scotland U21 player at Dundee United before his move to Hull in the summer, Robertson was invited to a training session with the senior team and was soon promoted, making his debut against Poland in a friendly in March before becoming an established member of the squad.
Strachan said: “If things go well this week you never know what might happen. Young Andrew Robertson joined us for an afternoon and played against 11 versus 11 to work on certain things.
“After the game finished I asked the coaches who played well and, apart from Scott Brown and James Morrison, he was man of the match. I am looking forward to seeing him (Macleod) and working with him.”
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