If selected by Scotland coach Gordon Strachan against England, Christophe Berra faces the daunting task of trying to stifle Harry Kane. The predatory Tottenham striker is in the form of his life and is one of many threats to Scotland’s World Cup hopes.
Berra, having just returned to formative club Hearts from Ipswich Town, is hoping Strachan gives him the nod to start at Hampden. He played in November’s 3-0 defeat by England at Wembley when, intriguingly, Kane wasn’t deemed good enough to leave the substitutes’ bench.
Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill scored the goals that night but Kane’s inclusion at Hampden next Saturday is guaranteed. He scored 35 times for Spurs in the season just ended, with 32 the season before and another 32 the season prior to that.
A total of 99 goals across three years in one of the world’s most competitive leagues affirms the 23-year-old’s talent. How do you stop him?
“Good question. After his first season when he scored lots of goals people were questioning whether he could do it again. I think he’s done it three seasons in a row now so he’s a top player,” admitted Berra.
“He’s player in a great Tottenham side with a lot of good, young, English players who will no doubt be in England’s starting line-up. They all know each other’s game. These players are there for a reason. They’ve got instincts that are different to everyone else.
“You aren’t going to dominate a striker for the whole 90 minutes. You try to do it as long as possible and, if he does get a chance, you hope the keeper is there to pull you out of trouble, or your fellow defenders.
“We’re going to need to be at 110 per cent, have a bit of lady luck on our side. Hopefully we get off to a good start with a good performance on the front foot and make Hampden an intimidating place.”
All three goals in London came from textbook headers from crosses and national coach Gordon Strachan will doubtless focus on that during next week’s preparations. “I think it’s something the gaffer will work on. He’s always hands-on at training,” explained Berra.
“I don’t know if they have played three at the back recently so that might be something he works on. If we play well, it will take care of itself. Obviously we have to be aware of their threats. We will do video analysis during the week so all the boys will be full of information.”
Appetite for a fixture with the Auld Enemy is as fierce as ever north of the Border. Particularly a competitive tie which could prove to be pivotal to Scotland’s chances of reaching next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
A win would propel the fourth-placed Scots to within three points of leaders England in Group F. For that reason, and also because Scotland are historically always underdogs against their neighbours, some feel this rivalry is more prevalent in Caledonia.
“Some people say that. Technically, yes, but don’t tell me it doesn’t mean as much to England,” said Berra. “These English players are playing at a high level for a reason. They go out to produce in every game and they play for the best teams in the league.
“They have their own personal pride. They aren’t there because they slacken off, they’re there because they’re good professionals. They’ll know what they’re up for and I’m sure their manager will have them well drilled.”
Eight and a half years in English football with Wolves and Ipswich didn’t pass without a fair amount of flak for a proud Scotsman like Berra. “The boys did have a bit of banter. I always do take some stick from team-mates who are wind-up merchants,” he smiled.
A more serious issue is the defender’s lack of game time in the build-up to such a critical international. A full month will have passed between Berra’s last match - for Ipswich against Nottingham Forest on May 7 - and the England encounter.
He doesn’t see it as being a major issue even if it is at the back of his mind. “I had a holiday there and I went to the gym. I’m naturally quite a fit guy. I’m sure the boys have been doing the same. We’ve got a good week’s training ahead of us to get back up to speed.
“The freshness might do us good as well. It’s been a long season. In big games, adrenalin can get you through, especially if it’s a one-off game. The boys will all be motivated for it and be champing at the bit to get out there.”