I was all set to start this blog with something along the lines of “Scotland’s failure to reach the World Cup playoffs next month at least means half our squad might actually get a break in November”.
Of course, trust the SFA to find a brand new meaning to the word “incompetence”.
There is little in football less important than an international friendly. They bizarrely count towards the FIFA rankings, meaning that the result actually matters as does the choice of opposition. But only on that very limited scale, and because those rankings later determine how high a seeding you might get for the actually important games, you have to try and beat the right opponents.
So from that perspective, arranging a friendly against the Netherlands for next month makes sense. They’re a decent team, though not one that could reach the playoffs either, so playing them is better than not.
And after all, Scotland are heading into the top 30 in those rankings. Nothing quite illustrates how stupid those rankings are when a team who aren’t among the 32 going to the World Cup are ranked in the top 30.
Unfortunately, every other actually useful reason for playing a game of football goes out the window. Gordon Strachan has been relieved of his duties, meaning Malky Mackay is taking charge for this one game. So we can’t say “the manager can learn about his squad” because the manager will change after this game!
How about the idea of it being a game the fans might enjoy? Certainly I’ve been to Celtic friendly games where I’ve enjoyed them purely for the day out and the quality of opposition on offer. Well, again, the unfortunate truth here is the fans are an afterthought. The game will be played on a Thursday night at Pittodrie. Useful for fans up there, useless for the rest of us who won’t or can’t go up there midweek.
So all this game really does is fill a gap in a schedule where already overworked players will have to go and play for their country in a largely meaningless game to ensure they’re not seen as part timers for their country and to try and improve the country’s standing in the rankings.
Except they probably won’t so that either, because you’d imagine the Netherlands will win. They did beat Lustig and co earlier this week – just not by enough. Sweden are in the playoffs, much to the delight of our right back. Ireland will be there too, although who knows if Jonny Hayes will be involved. Tom Rogic played a part in Australia beating Syria to reach their final playoff round, so these guys all have truly meaningful games next month.
Will Craig Gordon, Scott Brown, Kieran Tierney, Leigh Griffiths, Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest and Calum McGregor play at Pittodrie next month? Who knows. I hope not, but all seven probably have good reason to hope they will. International football is like that.
But back to Celtic and domestic business again.
We’ve Munich on the horizon, but before that trip next week it’s a home match against a team we already cuffed in the last round of the League Cup.
Neil McCann may have said after the match that it was never a 4-0 game, but when Celtic’s possession statistics were being measured at 85% at times all that really tells you is that Celtic treated it almost as a training exercise at times. In a busy period, you could understand that. It was the first of three away wins for us, with victory at Ibrox in the league and most crucially in Brussels in the Champions League, but it was still a win we needed to maintain out hold on the first of the three domestic trophies.
A penalty from Scott Sinclair, the second from Forrest, and then two late goals from McGregor and Forrest did the job to send us to Hampden later this month. It was our easiest win over Dundee for a good while having had far closer but ultimately winning encounters last season as well as goalless draws dating back to Ronny Deila’s reign.
But the truth is, Dundee haven’t beaten Celtic since our last treble winning season. May 2001, and the already crowned champions went down to a double from Fabian Caballero, losing their unbeaten home record in the process. Aside from a narrow 1-0 defeat to Ajax a few months later as we defended a 3-1 away leg lead, it would be nearly three years before Celtic would lose another home game.
With Celtic on 47 league games unbeaten, and going for 59 domestic games unbeaten across all three competitions, that club and Scottish record of 62 is tantalisingly close now. It would be a shame to slip up at this point.
But unbeaten isn’t quite enough. Aberdeen have also started the league season unbeaten and sit level with us on the twenty point mark. Our two dropped points at home to Hibernian were added to the dropped points at home to St Johnstone and that means we’ve already dropped half as many points as we did all of last season. With Aberdeen due up later this month, we don’t really want to be going to Pittodrie behind them in the league.
Munich will take care of itself soon enough. The aim today is to get back to winning ways. If we can do that with another routine match that can play out almost as a training exercise, that would be ideal.
After all, it’s not like our stars get much of a rest.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)