GARY CALDWELL is ready to rumble. Tonight he will play a key role in the Battle of Britain World Cup qualifier between Wales and Scotland. Forget technical flair, Caldwell expects nothing other than a traditional scrap in Cardiff and feels Scotland are ideally suited to such an occasion.
The Wigan Athletic captain feels the Home Nations and the Republic of Ireland struggle against teams built around players with sound technique and panache. Given the difficulties Scotland endured against Serbia and Macedonia last month in their opening two qualifiers for Brazil 2014, he could be right.
Both Craig Levein and his Welsh counterpart, Chris Coleman, know intrinsically one another’s squads. There are no secrets and no surprises to be sprung. The stage is set for an intriguing confrontation in Group A. Neither nation can realistically afford to lose and still harbour hopes of reaching the sun-kissed beaches of South America in two years’ time. So whoever fights hardest tonight could strike a devastating blow on the other.
“Possibly it will help us that it’s a British-style game,” said Caldwell. “A lot of the teams we face are technically very good. Even Macedonia, who are lower than us in the world rankings, had some players going forward who were very technical and could cause problems.
“I think tonight’s game will be more British in style. There will be a lot of tackles and hard work and there will be a real battle to see who can come out on top. I don’t think it will be a technical football match, which can be difficult for British teams. England, Wales, the Republic of Ireland – all struggle against the technical sides.”
Caldwell is anticipating an especially tenacious Wales team eager to make amends for their 6-1 crushing at the hands of Serbia last month. “They’ll be hurting from their last game. It’s never good to play a team that lost 6-1 in their previous match. They’ll be angry and their manager will use that to say that they owe their fans and their country a performance. They’re going to come at us all guns blazing and we have to be ready for that. They have key players in key areas who can hurt you more than most teams. Their individual players have to be stopped.”
Some 29 years have lapsed since Scotland last beat Wales in Wales, although they did defeat their fellow Celtic nation 3-1 last year in last year’s Carling Nations Cup in Dublin. Recent visits to Cardiff have not been productive, with Levein’s predecessors, Berti Vogts and George Burley, on the receiving end of 4-0 and 3-0 defeats there in respective friendly matches.
“They were both disappointing results, but they were a long time ago,” said Caldwell, who played in the 3-0 defeat under Burley in November 2009. “Both teams have different managers and different players. I don’t think you can look into that in terms of what the outcome tonight will be. We have to focus on ourselves and make sure our performance is as good as it can be. If it is, I believe we can win.”
Caldwell’s own role has changed within the Scotland side, too. He was used as a holding midfielder in last month’s qualifiers, but plays in a three-man defence with Wigan. He isn’t afraid to adapt, thankfully.
“It’s not hard, it’s part of football. You aren’t going to come into the international squad and play the exact same position as you do for your club. Every club plays different systems, as does every national team. You have to be versatile and do what the manager asks. If it’s different to what you’re used to then you need to be ready for that.”
There is a deep-rooted will within Caldwell to improve on what he views as a poor Scotland performance against Macedonia at Hampden last month.
Although reasonably satisfied at drawing 0-0 with Serbia, the 30-year-old was unhappy with the 1-1 result against the Macedonians. He has spent the weeks since waiting for the chance to make amends. Positive results against Wales tonight and Belgium on Tuesday would do just that.
“In international football, if you have a bad result, you don’t get the opportunity to get that out your system the following week like you do at club level.
“There is a long time to wait. Hopefully that is still in our thoughts tonight so that we can improve on the performance and result against Macedonia. The performance in that game wasn’t as good as we wanted.
“We need to improve, that’s clear. We have to be better than we were in our last game if we want to pick up points in these two games.
“We were satisfied with many parts of the performance against Serbia and, with a bit of luck, could have won that game. But we were flat against Macedonia and found ourselves a goal down against a good team that like to break. We had to chase the game and that was difficult. We got back into it, but didn’t quite have enough to go and win it. The overriding feeling was disappointment because he want to win at home.
“We need to use that feeling to make sure we get victories in our next two games. You look at the group and it’s still wide open. We could’ve been cast adrift after those results, but we’re not – we’re still in it. We’re still full of belief that we can qualify.”