Gordon Strachan has stressed he isn’t even thinking about his future as he takes time to assess Scotland’s latest qualifying failure.
This experience stings more than many of the others. One more goal was all Scotland needed to reach a play-off place. Tonight’s 2-2 draw with Slovenia, combined with Slovakia’s 3-0 win over Malta, means Scotland dropped to third place in Group F on goal difference at the end of another qualifying campaign.
Scotland scored the opening goal through Leigh Griffiths but the game turned on its head after Roman Bezjak’s introduction at half-time. He scored twice before Robert Snodgrass gave Scotland some hope with a late equaliser.
Scotland’s recent improvement is undeniable. However, despite taking 14 points from 18, and going seven matches unbeaten for the first time since 1997, Scotland will again sit out a major finals next summer when the World Cup is staged in Russia.
Strachan isn’t looking any further ahead than making sure the players are aware their efforts have been appreciated by him. The manager was asked about his own future, which is again uncertain.
His contract has effectively expired since the new one he signed two years ago after missing out in Euro 2016 was due to expire at the end of this current campaign. He wouldn’t be drawn on the subject last night.
“I just get on the plane, have a cup of tea, get home and see how it goes after that,” said Strachan. “But I can go away knowing that group of lads and the group that has worked over the last year, I couldn’t have asked for any more.
“You have to ask that question, but you know fine well that I’m going to say I’m the last person I’m thinking about now,” he added. “Players, staff and family – I want to make sure they’re all right.
“The players’ families have backed them up and everything else. So we are looking after them at the moment. Me? It’s not a problem. I am proud, really proud, to be their manager. It’s an honour to work with these guys.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been successful in my own career and get to places,” he added. “But with all due respect to the lads I played with – some who are my mates now – this group are as good as anything I’ve worked with. Over the last two games especially they gave it everything they had. We’ve just been beaten in the end on goal difference to Slovakia who are an excellent side.”
Slovenia manager Srecko Katanec was blunt when assessing his own final match in charge. He was adamant his side had deserved to win rather than draw and were the better team throughout.
“I would like to congratulate my boys,” he said. “It was a great performance and we were the better team the entire game. I have no complaints with them.
“Why we concede so many late goals I don’t know but if we excluded these goals in the last ten minutes of our matches we would be in the play-offs now. Scotland scored twice but they didn’t have many chances. We were clearly the better team today.”