“UP until now it’s been a great group. But it will only be a great group if we get out of it.” The words of Stuart McCall would be a perfect final message to the Scotland players before they leave the dressing-room tonight.
Group D looks favourable right now but glorious failure is something our nation specialises in. Four games remain and a win in the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena this evening would go a long way to propelling Scotland towards next summer’s European Championship finals. There is even the possibility of sitting above world champions Germany by the time they arrive at Hampden on Monday.
Getting ahead of ourselves has also been a frequent catalyst in previous downfalls, so Gordon Strachan and coaches Mark McGhee and McCall are focused only on tonight. Scotland are tucked neatly in third place, three points behind leaders Poland and two off second-placed Germany. They have lost only to the Germans and are eager to see their mission through by qualifying.
Georgia, in contrast, have only three points from their six qualifiers to date. That solitary win came away to whipping boys Gibraltar last October. Nonetheless, they are viewed as hazardous opponents, especially at home. Winning tonight is possible but hardly straightforward. In the context of the final group standings, it could be vital.
“As much as we want to go to Georgia and win, as certainly all the focus will be on going for three points, nobody knows how the group will go,” said McCall. “At the same time we are playing Georgia, Poland are playing Germany and I fully expect Ireland to win their next two games against Gibraltar and Georgia. That was why it was so important not to get beat in Dublin [in June]. If we had lost there the Irish could have gone on a roll even though they have Poland and Germany in the last two games.
“If you sit yourself up near the top of the table with just two games left, no matter who you are playing, you think you can do it.”
That is Scotland’s short-term aim. After tonight’s tie in Tbilisi and Monday’s visit of Germany, they want to still be heavy contenders for an automatic place in France next year. Then it would come down to October’s matches against Poland at home and Gibraltar away. One aspect in their favour tonight is the ability to score goals away from home, for which Strachan must take enormous credit.
“When we play away we believe we can score as we are not just going to sit in,” continued McCall. “We look dangerous when we are going forward. We scored against Germany and could have scored more. Against Ireland we weren’t at our best but we managed to get a result [1-1] which was good for us.
“There is anticipation for the game and everything is going to be focused. Everyone knows how we are going to approach the game and what we want out of it. Inside the camp we all want to do it. I know people are looking at the Georgia game and how many points they have. But we will give them respect.
“Look at their recent games. Although they lost 4-0 to Poland, if you look at the stats of the game, at 1-0 with 15 minutes to go they could quite easily have got an equaliser. In the end, Poland ran out 4-0 winners but that did not tell the story of the game.
“We are not going with any fear tonight but we are not thinking we just need to turn up because that certainly will not be the case. In the group, everyone thought Germany would be up there and then it would be a four-way fight between ourselves, Poland, Ireland and Georgia. Obviously, Georgia have slipped out of that but they still have players that can be a threat to us, especially on their own patch.”