What was, in retrospect, an optimistic view of Scotland's remaining World Cup qualifiers, plus a look at the start of the season.




Unbeaten in eight qualifying matches and not even a sniff of a play-off place for next year's World Cup. Unthinkable? Not if you're a Scotland supporter. For that is precisely the scenario which Craig Brown's side faces with just three games to play.
The leading three in the qualifying group - Belgium, Croatia and Scotland have drawn all their games against each other and beaten the two minnows Latvia and San Marino. Should that sequence continue then goal difference will determine who goes to Japan/South Korea, who goes into the play-offs and who stays behind on Barassie/Ostend/Split Beach.

Of course if the Scots had been able to defend a two goal lead against ten men at home then things would be looking a lot rosier. But the points dropped at Hampden against Belgium cancelled out the one gained in Zagreb and , as it stands, Scotland have the worst goal difference of the trio, miles behind Belgium, just one worse than Croatia. But the Croats have a game against San Marino to boost that differential.

So it could go right down to the wire. (When was it ever different? In qualifying for Italia 90 Scotland needed just one point from three to play and got it in the last match.) One thing in Scotland's favour is that our last game is at home to Latvia (exactly the same as in qualifying for France in 1998). while our two main rivals face each other with victory likely to mean a group win and automatic qualification. In such a scenario we could grab second place.

That would mean a play-off and a possible tie with England. The opportunity for revenge. Revenge for the Euro 2000 play-offs, revenge for Euro 96, revenge for Flodden/Culloden/18 years of Thatcherism/ Skinner & Baddiel etc etc etc.But given the way England are playing under Eriksson maybe that's not such an inviting prospect. In any case how are we going to put fire into the Tartan Army's bellies if we have to sing:
"Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be
We're going to Cardiff/Old Trafford/Newcastle/Villa Park/Pride Park, Der---beee"

Just not the same is it?

There is another way. Scotland could just surprise us all and defeat Croatia at Hampden then beat Belgium in Brussels, thus guaranteeing us a place in the Finals. But the next time you pay a courtesy visit to either of Messrs. Hill, Ladbroke or Coral, don't worry about having to avoid a stampede of optimistic punters shoving the mortgage on such an outcome.
Supporting Scotland. Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Plus ca change and all that.


Let's have a quick review of the Scottish domestic season so far.


An excellent start. Larsson in fine form again. Sutton scoring goals. Five wins and a draw. Going to be hard to beat. One drawback - the thuggish Hartson has yet to score


Unbeaten domestically but almost in crisis! Four points behind Celtic, they can't afford to lose the first Old Firm match at Ibrox at the end of September.


Seem to have got over the loss of Colin Cameron quite well. But every single player knows he's available for transfer (which might be a boost to individual form). Lack of ambition may be a problem as the season unfolds.


Surprise packets thus far. A mean defence a major plus. But only scored in two of six games. Surely can't stay as high in the table.


Already faced both the Old Firm. Will surely climb higher in the coming weeks and months. Unless Alex McLeish fancies the Scotland job.


Not a bad start considering they've had four away matches out of six played. Will look to continue improving when Durrant and Dargo return from injury.


No longer the surprise they were last season. Home form fine but struggling on their travels. Should be thereabouts when the League splits.

Dundee United

Alex Smith has assembled a team of 'reformed' characters. Much better than last season and a good chance of the top six.


Recent revival has helped Ebbe Skovdahl's job prospects. Too early to say if its permanent. Still relying on loan signings like the wonderfully named Dadi. Ben Thornley is a major improvement to the side though.


False optimism engendered by opening two wins (against worst sides in the League). Brought down to earth with four losses on the trot. Home form the key to survival.


No wins. No money. Poor discipline. A long hard season ahead. The game at McDiarmid Park on Sep 29th looks like a six-pointer already.

St Johnstone.

This website's forecast for the drop before a ball was kicked. Experience of Willie Falconer and Darren Jackson will help but doubtful if they'll last a full season. Return of Keigan Parker will be a bonus but need points from next two at home (Livingston and Motherwell).

Outside the Premier there have been fine if unexpected starts in the First Division for both Partick Thistle and Airdrie. Both surprises given that Thistle have just been promoted and Airdrie didn't even have any players signed shortly before the start of the season.

Its important that whoever wins this division meets the SPL requirements of 10,000 covered seats. Perennial contenders Ayr and Falkirk are nowhere near this. Apart from the Jags and the Diamonds, only St Mirren and Raith Rovers fit the bill. With the SPL ruling out ground sharing, this is effectively a four team League. If one of the others wins, there will be no relegation from the SPL

Ross County and Arbroath already look like the bottom spots are made for them. Both Clyde and Inverness Caley Thistle have made decent starts but need a lot of work to being their ground up to SPL standards.

Clydebank's ownership problems look to have been resolved. They top the Second Division. OK, they've got a team, they've got a Board. All they need now is a ground.

Hamilton have a ground - a new one. The stupidly named Ballast Stadium (What is it with Lanarkshire sides? Airdrie called their new ground the Shyberry Excelsior before they saw sense and renamed it New Broomfield) has been attracting crowds of over 2,000 and Accies are well placed to make it two promotions in a row.

This division is shaping up to be as tight as ever. There's a 40% turnover each season. But promoted Cowdenbeath are struggling as are Berwick, who almost went up last season!

In the Third Division, Brechin City have the only 100% record in Britain with Stirling looking to prove they're too good for this level. Elgin are much improved from their first season but it may be too soon to talk about promotion.

Lurking at the bottom surprisingly are East Fife and Queen's Park.



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