JORDAN RHODES insisted today that Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup did not necessarily end with defeat to Wales.
Many have accepted that Scotland must now turn their focus to qualifying for the European Championships in 2016, which will be held in France.
But the Blackburn Rovers hitman, who came on for the final four minutes of the 2-1 loss at Hampden on Friday night, believes that Scotland can still progress from their group.
The Wales game was labelled a must-win by players and supporters alike, but Rhodes reckons there is still a chance for Scotland to qualify for their first major finals since 1998.
Scotland have played five matches in this qualifying campaign so far and sit bottom of the group, having taken a total of just two points.
They are in Belgrade for tomorrow night’s Group A match with second seeds, Serbia, and Rhodes acknowledges that, this time, only a win will do.
He said: “We have to approach the Serbia game in the best way that we can, play as well as we know we can – and hopefully that is good enough on the night.
“They are a good team full of household names. We know that it is going to be difficult, especially going away from home.
“We have got to give it our best shot. Qualifying might be a tough ask of us now, but all we can do is our best and that is what we need to do tomorrow.
“We are only five games into the groups and there are another five to go so I think that it is very early doors to start writing ourselves off altogether and saying that we just have to look to the next tournament. There’s no point in thinking that way.”
Scotland struggled to make an impression inside the opening 30 minutes against Wales, but were still first to make the breakthrough in first-half stoppage time through a Grant Hanley header. However, two goals midway through the second-half – and just 93 seconds apart – left Scotland stunned and ultimately defeated.
The first was the real turning point, Wales awarded a penalty and Scotland reduced to ten men after Robert Snodgrass slid into Chris Gunter just inside the box.
Aaron Ramsey slammed that one away, although his heart must have been in his mouth as it crashed off the underside of the crossbar and bounced back into the net.
Less that two minutes later they had turned the game completely on its head, Hal Robson-Kanu directing his header past a helpless Allan McGregor.
It was almost identical to the defeat that Scotland suffered in Cardiff back in October.
That night James Morrison had given Scotland a first-half lead, only for a Gareth Bale penalty and second goal just eight minutes later from the same man to give Wales all three points.
Despite the disappointment of another defeat to Chris Coleman’s side on Friday night, Rhodes felt that there were enough positives to take into the Serbia match. “I think that for 60, maybe 65 minutes against Wales, you could see that the squad is benefitting from the freshness of the new manager coming in.
“Until they scored the equaliser I think things were looking fairly rosy for us but then we had the sending off and the penalty kick and that really turned things around.
“There were a lot of positives to take from the game and we have to focus on them.”
Rhodes feels that Scotland have been unfortunate across this campaign, but is hoping that luck will finally turn their way in the remaining matches in the group.
Gordon Strachan suggested after the Wales match, his first competitive one as Scotland boss, that he is likely to make a number of changes against Serbia so Rhodes may well find himself on from the start in Belgrade.
For many Scotland fans, the ideal pairing up front would be Rhodes and Steven Fletcher, who was stretchered off inside the first minutes at Hampden.
And Rhodes reckons that’s not the only piece of bad luck that Scotland have suffered in this World Cup campaign.
“There have been so many incidents over these last five games,” he added, “little margins and refereeing decisions or stuff just not going our way.
“We’ve maybe just not had that little bit of luck that we have needed, but hopefully over the course of the next few years and another tournament, things will have started to turn in our direction again.”
Shaun Maloney admitted that losing Fletcher so early in the match had been a huge blow but he reckons that Scotland have enough quality in their locker to replace him in Belgrade. Kenny Miller came on to replace the Sunderland hitman and is likely to be on from the start tomorrow.
Maloney said: “I don’t think Steven Fletcher going off early on unsettled us because when Kenny came on he played well.
“Obviously, Steven is one of our best players, probably the best player in the squad in fact and to lose him was disappointing. But when Kenny came on and we managed to get the ball to him I thought he was excellent.”