Gordon Strachan predicts group will go to wire

Steven Naismith flicks the ball past Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to give Scotland a 2-1 lead in Warsaw last night, but Arkadiusz Milik hit back shortly afterwards to secure a draw, below
Steven Naismith flicks the ball past Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to give Scotland a 2-1 lead in Warsaw last night, but Arkadiusz Milik hit back shortly afterwards to secure a draw, below
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Scotland boss Gordon Strachan is convinced their European Championship qualifying group will go down to the wire – and he thinks his side have every chance of being involved following another step forward in Warsaw.

Scotland held a buoyant Poland side to a 2-2 draw and stayed above world champions Germany in Group D in the process.

The World Cup winners are level on four points with Scotland behind the Republic of Ireland and Poland after John O’Shea’s injury-time equaliser gave the Republic a draw in Gelsenkirchen.

The group had been billed as a race to finish behind Joachim Low’s Germany but there might need to be a reassessment following the opening three games. Strachan, whose side fell to a 2-1 defeat in Dortmund in their opener, said: “It confirms what I said after the Germany game, that this is the hardest group in the European Championship. By far. This will go right to the last day.”

Although the Tartan Army have looked on in dismay at Germany’s dropped points, Scotland can be happy with their start after a dominant if narrow win over Georgia was followed by a thrilling draw in the Polish national stadium.

A mistake from Alan Hutton gifted Krzysztof Maczynski an 11th-minute opener but Scotland were soon level through Shaun Maloney after a brilliant move cut the Poles apart.

Steven Naismith flicked home James Morrison’s free-kick to put the visitors ahead but Poland came closest to winning the game after Arkadiusz Milik levelled with 14 minutes left.

However, Strachan feels his team are improving with every game, an assertion backed up by a record that has seen them lose just once – to the world champions – in 11 games.

“Over the last year the rhythm of our game is good, our understanding,” he said. “I think we know what to do when we get together and I see patterns now getting played during the game.

“So I’m really pleased with their performance and really pleased with their improvement, and so should Poland. They have improved a lot in the last six months as well.”

Strachan, who admitted he was “drained” after the game, added: “There were a couple of things we could have done a wee bit better but overall you can’t ask for any more. We would probably have liked to pass a wee bit better but I think the (heavy) surface had a bit to with that, because we are a bit smaller and they are a bit firmer to move the ball about.”

The point makes it a good week’s work for Strachan, who sprung a pre-match surprise when he brought in Steven Whittaker at left-back to replace Andrew Robertson, who had impressed in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Georgia.

With Ikechi Anya overcoming a calf strain, that meant two changes as Gordon Greer came in as expected for Grant Hanley, who suffered a knee injury at Ibrox. Greer had played in a 1-0 friendly win in this same Stadion Narodowy in March, when the hosts were without star man Robert Lewandowski.

Scotland started well on this occasion but the Poles, who made three changes, accepted a gift to take the lead. Hutton had time and space to deal with a misplaced pass on the edge of his box but he took a heavy touch and gifted a free shot to Maczynski, who fired in off the post from inside the ‘D’.

But Scotland did not allow the hosts to continue their momentum and equalised with a goal of supreme quality.

Steven Fletcher opened Poland up with a brilliant crossfield ball to Anya, who killed it instantly and cut the ball back for Maloney. The Wigan player side-footed a first-time finish from 12 yards which just squeezed past the hand of the diving Wojciech Szczesny.

Scotland survived some nervy moments just after the equaliser. David Marshall fumbled both an ambitious strike from Grosicki and the midfielder’s resulting corner, before Waldemar Sobota just failed to connect with a dangerous ball across the face of goal.

But Strachan’s men looked composed on the ball inside the Polish half and kept possession for decent spells without creating any more first-half chances.

They were almost caught out before the break though when Hutton was beaten by a ball inside him. Subota slipped the ball past the onrushing Marshall and towards Lewandowski but Greer managed to clear.

Milik missed two good chances in the opening two minutes of the second half, first miskicking after good skill inside the box from Lukasz Piszczek and then steering the ball over 
following Kamil Glik’s header.

The visitors survived another scare when Scott Brown cleared a near-post cross after Grosicki appeared to foul Anya when the Watford winger initially foiled a counter-attack.

The Poles had stepped up a gear and looked dangerous on every attack but they were stunned in the 57th minute after Maloney won a free-kick ten yards inside the Poland half.

Morrison floated the ball towards the back post and Naismith peeled off Piszczek before getting the deftest of touches to guide it just inside the post from six yards.

The unmarked Milik headed over from similar range and Lewandowski was inches away from getting his toe on the end of his strike partner’s low cross as the Poles hit back.

Strachan brought on Darren Fletcher and Derby striker Chris Martin for Naismith and Steven Fletcher with 20 
minutes left.

Fletcher started a sweeping move that ended with Szczesny pushing over Maloney’s powerful strike following an Anya cross.

But Poland were soon level. Left-back Artur Jedrzejczyk brought down a crossfield ball and played a pass inside Hutton for Milik to run on to and fire an angled drive past Marshall.

Lewandowski then produced some brilliant skill in a similar position but Marshall dived to push his drive wide. The Scots had luck on their side after substitute Sebastian Mila opened them up with a brilliant dribble and pass. Grosicki took the ball round Marshall but hit the post and Mila fired the rebound wide.