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Thoughts on the Israel game



Ladies and gentleman, the James Forrest Show
Few players are more frustrating to watch than nippy wingers who are playing badly. Conversely, few excite quite as much as nippy wingers who are in top form and oozing confidence. Step forward James Forrest, who has now scored five goals in two Scotland games - and 11 in 11 games for club and country. There was more than just the hat-trick to savour; his decision-making, so often erratic at best, was perfect again and again as he weaved in and out of traffic and left more than one Israeli with twisted blood. But his calm, emphatic finishing, like in Tirana, was the sort of stuff you associate with world-class centre-forwards. Even if this turns out to be temporary form rather than permanent class, it was exhilarating and the Tartan Army won't forget it for a while.

We can't play like this in every game
Whether it was the pressure of hanging onto a single goal lead, or the fact that Israel were throwing everything forward, the players looked knackered in the latter stages. That wasn't a huge surprise given that in both this week's matches Scotland pressed high up the pitch. Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Christie were both substituted mainly because they were gassed; the former in particular ran himself into the ground and the introduction of the energetic Graeme Shinnie was a sensible move in the circumstances. Obviously though a different style will have to be adopted when the opposition is stronger and more technically able than this; the trouble is that in friendlies against better teams a more passive approach has resulted in Scotland being ripped to shreds. That's something for big Eck to ponder going forward, but he has bought himself several months to find a solution to that.

Relief for the SFA
The SFA can now confidently throw their weight behind McLeish for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, which is just as well because having to dismiss him would have reflected as badly on the Hampden suits as it would have on the manager. The hope obviously is that this week has been some sort of turning point, and we now have some momentum to take forward (and an insurance policy as well in the form of the Nations League playoffs). The fear is that the efforts of Forrest and his teammates have masked the problems at the SFA for a little bit longer.

Connotations for Euro 2020
Not only did Scotland win their group, but they actually ended up ranked as the top team in League C - that thumping win over Albania helped them finish ahead of Norway on goal difference. So if it turns out that they need this fallback to try and qualify for Euro 2020, they'll have to win a home semi-final in March 2020 - against Finland, as it stands - and then another game after that - against Norway or Serbia, as it stands - to make it. Let's hope it doesn't come to that though: one of the other bonuses of winning the group is that Scotland go into pot 3 for the qualifiers draw instead of pot 4.

That said, Germany are in pot 2. If we get them, I think we can just start focussing on those March 2020 playoffs straight away...

More needs to be done to encourage fans
21000 is a dreadful attendance for such an important game. But until Saturday night there was very little reason for supporters to attend other than a sense of duty. And sadly there were plenty of reports of difficulties in buying and collecting tickets on the day. £25 a ticket for a midweek match against a middle-of-the-road opponent is foolish as well. The powers that be need to decide what national team matches are meant to achieve - is the top priority just to make as much money as possible, by milking loyal Tartan Army members for all they're worth to make money? Or should the focus be on filling Hampden at all costs, thus providing a better atmosphere and more support to the team as well as promoting them to as many fans (particularly children) as possible? Given that topping the group means another €750,000 in prize money, I do hope Ian Maxwell might be more generous in the future.

But a little success does no harm. It might only be one group in the third tier of the Nations League, but Scotland have actually won something, and the post-match lap of honour was justified in the circumstances not only to make the players feel good but the supporters as well. Maybe, just maybe, this could be the start of something special.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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