Anthony Brown: Germany is a free hit as games that matter await

There is no pressure on Scotland boss Gordon Strachan this weekend, but expectation will increase in the next games
There is no pressure on Scotland boss Gordon Strachan this weekend, but expectation will increase in the next games
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An opening venture into the formidable manor of the world champions presents an obvious hindrance to Scotland’s hopes of building some early momentum in their bid to make it to Euro 2016 in France.

However, whatever happens in Germany this Sunday night, it is unlikely to have any great bearing on the lie of the land come the end of qualifying next October.

In six weeks’ time, both Ireland and Poland – Scotland’s two main rivals for second and third spot in Group D – will also have faced the Germans, and, like the Scots, will probably have emerged with no points from a side widely expected to breeze through a group top- heavy on mid-rank mediocrity.

After their “free hit” trip to Dortmund, Scotland face Georgia and Ireland at home, either side of a visit to Poland, where they won back in March, albeit in a low-key friendly.

Seven points from those fixtures – a realistic target if Scotland have genuine aspirations of qualification – would have Gordon Strachan’s side sitting pretty by Christmas, with their two most daunting away games out of the way.

Such is the potential for throat-cutting in this group that they could probably get away with taking five points from their first four games and still have a reasonable chance of being in contention at the business end. After all, in the last qualifying campaign, Scotland took only two points from their first six matches and still finished just three points shy of third-placed Serbia in what was a more formidable section.

The main issue for Scotland is that Ireland and Poland will be approaching this campaign with a similarly bullish outlook. With Germany likely to account for top spot, Poland, Scotland and Ireland – all now of a relatively similar standard – are set to be scrapping for the other two qualification berths.

Poland will view Ireland and Scotland with respect, but certainly won’t be fearful. Likewise, the Irish, who have been sitting on a loftier perch than the Scots for the best part of two decades now, will be quietly confident.

Due to the increased number of teams able to qualify, there is major expectation from the people of Poland, Ireland and Scotland. Poland and Ireland have an edge as they have experienced their fair share of major tournaments in recent times and are not burdened by the same sense of desperation that often pervades any Scotland campaign.

The Poles, having played at four of the last seven major tournaments, certainly won’t be fazed when the qualifying campaign reaches what is sure to be a competitive climax next autumn. Likewise Ireland, who made light work of a two-legged Euro 2012 play-off against Estonia and were desperately unfortunate not to beat France in a play-off for World Cup 2010.

With hopes at their highest for some time among the Scottish public, Strachan’s team would be sure to find themselves under immense pressure from the nation if they are in a promising position going into the home straight.

While most Scots would accept now the chance to go into the last game, away to Gibraltar, needing a victory to seal qualification, it is not hard to envisage any side in dark blue making heavy weather of such a favourable fixture with so much riding on it. We can worry about that in a year’s time, however.

For now, Strachan, his team and the long-suffering supporters are buoyed by the knowledge that Scotland are the most upwardly-mobile of the three nations likely to be scrapping for the positions behind Germany. While all sides flopped in their most recent qualifying campaign, Scotland were the ones who came on strongest in the closing stages as Gordon Strachan’s galvanising influence sparked a notable upturn. Four wins and two draws from their last six matches ensure the vibe around the national team is as good as it has been since they began their Euro 2008 campaign.

With little to choose between the squads on paper – Poland have the only elite-level match-winner in Robert Lewandowski – the three-way battle to follow Germany out of Group D will be decided by organisation, momentum and extremely fine margins. Another hairy ride awaits Scotland fans.