AVIVA insurance policies don’t cover football, except this Saturday in Dublin. The Aviva Stadium, resplendent in emerald green and packed with raucous, hostile Irish, is Scotland’s insurance policy.
With all of the above in place, there’s no chance of anyone in dark blue not being “on it”. Scotland’s players thrive amid intimidating atmospheres and they don’t get more passionate than Republic of Ireland.
Places at Euro 2016 are on the line and the Irish can’t afford to lose to Scotland again. Their fans are pumped up and ready to fill the Aviva to its 51,700 capacity, hopeful that revenge for November’s 1-0 defeat at Celtic Park awaits. Plenty of the Tartan Army will also be inside the ground despite the Football Association of Ireland restricting Scotland to an allocation of just 3500. It is the prospect of entering the lion’s den which will spur the Scotland players on
Their response to the crowd at Parkhead in November produced a vital qualifying win. Moreover, their fine performance in the 2-2 draw with Poland last October was sparked by the hostility of 50-odd thousand Poles inside the national stadium in Warsaw. Gordon Strachan, the national coach, has again selected predominantly English-based players who compete in the Premier League and are used to high intensity matches every week. That could work to his advantage in Dublin
“The game at Celtic Park had an electrifying atmosphere and I think this will be pretty similar,” said midfielder Barry Bannan, one of those English-based Scots. “The Irish crowd are meant to be brilliant and the Tartan Army are always great anywhere. This will be really good to play in. I would say the game at Celtic Park was up there with anything I’ve been involved in. It probably is the best I’ve witnessed on a football pitch. Both sets of fans were great. The Irish were loud and the Scottish fans were their normal selves
“I played in the play-off final with Blackpool at Wembley and that was excellent. When we played Poland earlier on in the group, we drew 2-2 over there and they surprised me. Their fans were really loud on the night and that made for a great atmosphere. Those two games were two of the best I’ve experienced.”
The notion that a hostile atmosphere suits Scotland just as much as Ireland is not lost on Bannan. “Yes, I think it does. Over in Poland, it was an unbelievable atmosphere, mainly from their fans. We were brilliant that night. I thought we dominated the game. It was like everybody had just risen to the occasion and enjoyed it. I think the louder the crowd is, the more we get out of this squad.
“This game suits us. The game at Celtic Park was played in a similar way to how Old Firm games are played up here. It was a tough game on the night but the way it was played was better for us because we’re more used to playing in games like that. It wasn’t like playing a foreign team that tries to slow it down and keep possession. The way this game is going to be played on Saturday will suit us.
“It’s going to be passionate. You’re playing against some players you play against every week and it’s competitive. We’ve got some mates playing in the Irish team and you don’t want them getting bragging rights. There’s a lot at stake. For example, I know Seamus Coleman. He was on loan at Blackpool when I was there. I know people like Shane Long, who I’ve met on holiday and around Birmingham. I know them from playing against them. I haven’t spoken to any of them. I’ve spoken to Ciaran Clark but he’s out injured so he won’t be involved. I probably won’t contact the others till after the game.”
Scotland head across the Irish Sea in confident mood. Depending on results elsewhere in Group D, a win could propel them to the top of the qualifying section to send Strachan off on his summer break feeling thoroughly satisfied. Bannan believes the strength in depth within the squad is as strong as it has been for many years
“This is the best group of players I’ve been involved with in the Scotland squad. You have to impress every day in training. Every time you get a chance, you need to impress. With the quality in the squad, every day is a big day for people to try and force their way in
“Every game is a big game in this group at the minute because of how close it is. We’re just looking forward to Saturday. We’ve put ourselves in a great position up until now. If we can go there and get the three points, that puts us in an even better position.
“We don’t know how many points it will take to qualify. We’re confident, with what we have at our disposal, of going over there and winning the game. If we go over there and win, it will be an unbelievable result for us. We aren’t looking at any other teams in the group, we’re just looking at how many points we can get. Hopefully we get enough to qualify.”