Friday 24 November 2017

Strachan urges Scots to keep cool in Georgia heat

Head coach of Scottish national football team Gordon Strachan
Head coach of Scottish national football team Gordon Strachan

Roddy Forsyth

The fruit of the Euro 2016 finals is tantalisingly in view for Gordon Strachan and his side, but in Scotland the talk is of banana skins.

As Strachan’s players seek a win over a Georgia who are second-bottom of Group D, memories of Scottish campaigns gone awry against lowly opposition have inevitably been revisited.

The defeat by Macedonia which opened George Burley’s reign and the draw in Moldova which cost Berti Vogts his job have jostled with recollections of the near-humiliation by Liechtenstein under Craig Levein – averted by an injury-time header from Stephen McManus – and a 1-1 draw with the Faroe Islands when Craig Brown was in charge.

On this occasion, the form guide favours Scotland, who are unbeaten in five group games, while Georgia have lost three successive qualifiers and have not won in six consecutive home games over three years, during which they have scored only one competitive goal on their own territory.

However, Strachan sounded a note of significant caution about the Scots’ prospects.

“Georgia are strong, they’re organised. They’re also feeling quite good about themselves,” he said. “We’ve actually had to play our best football against them when we beat them at Ibrox last year. We did fantastically well that day and it was only 1-0.

“They were desperately disappointed to lose to us at our place. I was on the pitch when they were coming off and they were really angry and down because they’d put a lot into the game. They have good attacking wing-backs with a couple of individual lads who can do well, but we’ve been doing a lot of work on what we do – a lot of work.”

The ill-fated opening World Cup qualifier under Burley in Skopje in 2008 has been called to mind because the Scots struggled in the intense heat. When Strachan’s squad touched down in Tbilisi on Wednesday evening, the temperature was 28C and the manager will instruct his players to avoid frenetic activity during the match.

“We are a nation that’s on the go all the time,” he said. “We talk quickly, we eat quickly – everything we do is quick. I could go on but I could get myself into trouble.

“It’ll be a wee bit cooler at kick-off time, though, and we’ve also got enough water with us to sink the Titanic. We like to play at a tempo but there are times when that tempo doesn’t help you.

“Sometimes, you need to take your time on the ball if you can. That’s something we work on in training all the time, to try and calm us down. What we know is that in tomorrow’s team, every player on the pitch can look after the ball.”

Strachan has to decide whether to keep Charlie Mulgrew in central defence, where he played in Dublin, and if he should restore Steven Whittaker at left-back, rather than Craig Forsyth, who was also drafted in against the Republic of Ireland. (Daily Telegraph, London)

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