Scotland are 10/1 to beat England in the World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Friday evening which is about the same price Donald Trump had been two weeks ago to be the next US President! There was a late betting move for Mister Trump which was justified but backing Scotland to beat the Auld Enemy away from home really goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. This is about the worst Scottish team in decades and if England are beaten Gareth Southgate probably won’t be retained.
There used to be an end of season tournament called the Home Internationals. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland played each other over about 10 days and the event culminated in England meeting Scotland, at Wembley and Hampden Park in alternating years. This fixture was one of the very few shown live on television and it was called the Battle Of Britain.
In 1967 Scotland beat England 3-2 at Wembley in their European Championship qualifying group. England were the world champions at the time so the Scots declared they were now the best side in the world as they had beaten the best on their own patch. The Scotland team was full of world class players and the England team was the same that had beaten West Germany in the World Cup final, except for Jimmy Greaves playing instead of Roger Hunt.
The match between England and Scotland is the oldest international fixture in the game. The footballing rivalry is not quite as intense as in the past and the annual Home Internationals meeting was stopped in 1989. There was the play-off for the 2000 Euros which England won on aggregate and Friday’s match is the first competitive fixture since then. Rivalries with other nations are more important now for England but winning this match means everything to the Scots.
England and Scotland have met in 113 full internationals and results are quite even. England have won 47 of those matches, Scotland just six fewer and there have been 25 draws. Scotland have won two of the last 10, scoring six goals and conceding 16 goals over that spell. Probably the most memorable fixture was at Euro 96 when Gazza chipped the ball over Colin Hendry’s head and buried the chance. Cue one of the best celebrations in the history of the sport.
Graeme Souness played for Scotland 54 times and was in the side that lost to Holland in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Archie Gemmill scored one of the best World Cup goals in that match but despite winning 3-2 Scotland were eliminated. Souness believes this week’s fixture brings together two of the weakest teams to represent both countries. England were pathetic at Euro 2016 and Scotland are currently 57th in the FIFA world rankings. England are 12th, one place behind Wales.
The World Cup qualifier could be pivotal in the careers of Southgate and Gordon Strachan. If England lose at home to inferior opponents Southgate will be in an untenable position in the context of becoming the next permanent manager of England. Strachan doesn’t have the raw material to work with but if his side get a drubbing at Wembley his days look numbered. In theory both managers are playing for their jobs and a draw would probably maintain the status quo.
Yet again Wayne Rooney is a central character in the run-up to the match. Dele Alli is injured and won’t play which means Rooney looks like getting an immediate recall after not starting against Slovenia in England’s last match. When Rooney retires in 2018 there will be a vacancy as the England captain. Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane are in the frame and both have solid claims but for now Rooney is the England captain off the field and probably on the pitch on Friday. Joe Hart is another contender now that he has rebuilt his career after the Euro 2016 nightmare.
It might be a cliché but apparently the Scotland players have been watching the film Braveheart, starring that committed Scotsman, Mel Gibson! However, it will take more than the inspiration from a film about First Scottish Independence from England to bridge the gulf in class and rankings. For Southgate this is a match England cannot afford to lose and they can win to nil and by more than one goal. The Gazza match at Euro 96 ended 2-0 to England and that can be the final score this time.