GORDON STRACHAN declined the opportunity to commit his future to Scotland after the national team’s Euro 2016 hopes were extinguished on a night of high drama in Group D.
The Scots looked set to keep their bid for a play-off place alive – mathematically at least – until their final qualifying game as they overcame the loss of an early Robert Lewandowski goal to lead Poland 2-1 at Hampden courtesy of a pair of stunning strikes from Matt Ritchie and Steven Fletcher.
However, Polish superstar Lewandowski, who had struck 12 goals in his previous four games for Bayern Munich, scored a 94th-minute equaliser to secure a 2-2 draw. Allied to Ireland’s shock win over Germany in Dublin, the result in Glasgow means the Scots have no chance of finishing in the top three of their qualifying section regardless of their result against Gibraltar on Sunday. Manager Strachan, whose contract expires at the end of the campaign, refused to be drawn on his future before last night’s match and did little afterwards to dampen speculation that this weekend’s campaign-concluding match in Faro could be his last in charge of the national team. Asked if he planned to remain for the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign, he replied: “That is really unfair. For me to talk about myself is wrong. They [the players] are the priority at the moment, those guys in the dressing-room and the coaching staff.
“To talk about me is all wrong. I’ll leave that to other people. I have people hurting in this building at the moment and I need to look after them.”
Scotland’s exile from major tournament finals will now span a minimum of two decades after last night’s events. Strachan explained that his main emotions were disappointment for his players and pride in the way they had tackled a treacherous qualifying section.
“I’m hugely disappointed for the players,” he said. “I saw a group of lads give as much as they can give. I feel a bit sorry for them – they put so much work in and they scored two wonderful goals. I’m really proud of what they’ve done. They’ve been a bit unfortunate with a few things in the last few games. I feel really bad for them to put so much work in. I’m proud of the players. I just have to watch them and try to help them.
“After working hard for a year, at end of it something like that happens in the last second of the game. That’s over a year’s work. I can’t remember getting anything lucky ourselves. Anything we’ve had has been really earned.”
Even though Scotland led 2-1, a lull descended on Hampden as the home support got news of Ireland’s goal against Germany. “I didn’t find out the Ireland score until the end,” said Strachan. “You have to hold your hands up and say well done to Ireland. But we’ve played Poland and Ireland twice and not been beaten.”
Strachan bristled at the suggestion that the campaign had been pointless given that the main objective of qualification for a European Championship which had been opened up to 24 teams for the first time hadn’t been achieved. “No, it’s not about points or money,” he said. “Pride is much more than anything else. Pride is a sense of achievement whether it be a draw or good goals. Pointless is probably Sunday against Gibraltar. That will be a hard one to take.
“But over the year, there have been a couple of offside goals and a couple of horrendous deflections. We’ve had to put up with a lot.”
The manager was irked by the suggestion that last month’s defeat in Georgia had killed Scotland their chance of qualification. “I’ve got to say I really can’t be bothered speaking about it now,” he said. “I’m not going to disguise it, I don’t want to speak about it now. It’s unfair to everyone in dressing-room for me to pontificate on what went wrong and didn’t go wrong. We got to a point where we were 2-1 up and really proud of how we were playing against a top side.”