Following the conservative approach in Germany, Scotland will embrace something very different against Georgia tomorrow.
Gordon Strachan’s gameplan will be to attack and let the opposition worry about how to contain the likes of Steven Fletcher, Steven Naismith and the talismanic Ikechi Anya.
Strachan’s players won’t be rampaging around the Ibrox pitch like unhinged lunatics but there will be a clear change in mentality from last month’s narrow defeat in Dortmund. Rigid defending is always vital but Scotland need to seize the initiative and kick-start this European Championship qualifying campaign. Three points against the Georgians would do just that before Tuesday’s equally important tie with Poland in Warsaw.
“We will change the way we play considering we are now at home to Georgia,” said midfielder Shaun Maloney. “They play a different formation with a back three so there will be tactical changes, compared to being reasonably defensive against the Germans. There will not be wholesale changes, it will just be tactical. Particularly when we have the ball, we will be looking to keep possession a lot better than we did in Germany.”
Strachan favours a 4-2-3-1 formation at home, reverting to 4-4-1-1 away. “We have played that formation for the last 12 months, maybe a bit longer,” continued Maloney. “We started using it around the Croatia game and the manager talked about not being miles away from that formation. So I don’t think you will see anything too radical in these two games. However, you never know. The manager might change the team or the formation so he would be the best one to ask about that.
“We will watch videos of Georgia. They will be an organised side. They play a back three, which is different to most national sides. I am sure it will be a little bit cagey to start with, as most games are in international football. It will be a tough match, but one that we have got to look forward to.”
History shows Georgia have previous when it comes to damaging Scotland’s European Championship hopes. A 2-0 defeat in Tbilisi in October 2007 left the national team, then under the guidance of Alex McLeish, needing a result against Italy in their final match to reach the play-offs for Euro 2008. Ultimately, it was another campaign which ended in glorious failure.
Maloney played that night in Tbilisi as goals from Levan Mchedlidze and David Siradze consigned Scotland to a costly defeat. Mchedlidze, the Empoli striker, is still part of the Georgia squad which arrived in Glasgow earlier this week. Maloney remembers the frustration he caused and is eager to ensure no repeat.
“That match sticks out in my memory for being particularly disappointing. We had done so well in that group and really that result was a massive decider on whether we qualified from that group. We lost 2-0 and were beaten by a far better team on the night. It’s not like we played well and the result could have been different. We were certainly outplayed that night, which was a really disappointing end to that campaign.”
The only other meeting between the two countries came earlier in that Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. Scotland won 2-1 at Hampden Park in March 2007 with a goal from Kris Boyd and a classy late winner by Craig Beattie. This time, the teams meet at Ibrox as Hampden undergoes upgrading work following the Commonwealth Games.
“We are sitting here on zero points, so our first home game is going to be very important,” said Maloney. “But it is still reasonably early in the group. There are groups of three or four nations who will take points off one another home and away. We really have no idea of how this group will go at the moment.
“Every game is going to have such an influence on how the group finishes. These next two will not be any different. We are trying to qualify for a major championship, so every game is going to be loaded with pressure. But we have to be reasonably, or quietly, confident after the last 12 months’ work.”
Strachan has revitalised the national team and the Euro 2016 qualifying format also gives cause for optimism. With both group winners and runners-up qualifying for the finals in France for the first time, Scotland’s chances of reaching a first major championship in 16 years are greatly increased.
“At the outset, yes, it’s a great opportunity,” admitted Maloney. “But if you look back at Walter Smith’s reign, that was a really good squad. Walter Smith and Alex McLeish came close. George Burley came close as we had that last game against Holland where we had chances at 0-0. Had we drawn that game we could have made the play-offs, depending on other results.
“With the format of the top two in the group qualifying, and with the form we have shown in the last 12 months, it is probably as confident a squad as I have known for a long time at the start of a qualifying campaign.”
Maloney is relishing the chance to play at Ibrox after some memorable experiences there as a Celtic player, one being his senior debut in April 2001. “I wouldn’t say it stands out as a particularly bad stadium that holds bad memories. Ibrox holds some amazing memories,” said the Wigan Athletic midfielder.
“If you are a Celtic player and win there, it outshines any result in the calender year. I have been lucky to be involved in a couple of wins at Ibrox and they stick out in my memory. Making your senior debut at a stadium sticks out, and mine was at Ibrox.
“We won a match 1-0 [in February 2006] and I think Maciej Zurawski scored. I remember that was particularly pleasing. I didn’t play great and it wasn’t one of my best games but I remember winning 1-0. Roy Keane played in that match and it was a really good team performance.
“There was a real satisfaction having worked so hard to get that win at Ibrox. It was pretty big at the time.”