Managers in need of victory to lift anxiety over positions
GROUP A: WALES v SCOTLAND:IT IS early in the World Cup qualifiers, yet the shadows must be lengthening for some managers. Wales have no points and Chris Coleman’s line-up has conceded a total of eight goals during two matches. The plight of Scotland, their opponents in Cardiff tonight, is less severe but a pair of draws at Hampden did not suggest Craig Levein’s men are surging towards the finals in Brazil, writes KEVIN McCARRA.
The lack of status is underlined on fifa.com. Anyone who goes to the 2012 World Cup pages and clicks on “profile” for Scotland or Wales will find a blank. They are far from being the only countries to be disregarded in such a manner, but it is unsettling to keep company with, say, Andorra.
For bleak reasons, the encounter in Cardiff could be hotly contested. If the managers are not at risk of the sack immediately it may be because it is hard to be sure anyone else willing to fill the vacancy would do better.
With the exception of the appearance at the 1958 World Cup, Wales have had few tales to tell of giddy achievement. On occasion, there are outstanding talents in the ranks, and many of Coleman’s peers would be overjoyed to find Gareth Bale in their squad.
There is no sense of either nation lapsing into melancholy just yet. Scotland, in particular, look sound if not exciting. Too much emphasis could be placed on the return of Steven Fletcher after a two-year estrangement from Levein. The forward resented being left out of the action in key qualifiers for Euro 2012. It is assumed he will be reinstated in the starting line-up.
The striker will be encouraged by the thought he has scored twice in three matches at club level when pitted against Ashley Williams, who was made Wales’s new captain after the armband was taken from Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey. With one goal, against Iceland, after eight appearances, Fletcher, however, still joins Levein in having much to prove.
Coleman, too, is in difficulties and that is reflected in the restoration of the armband to Williams, who has led the national team on four previous occasions. “I have spoken to Aaron and he said congratulations,” the Swansea captain reported. We kind of laughed and that was it really – no big deal. We get on fine.”
Neither side can be transformed by the outcome of this match. The victorious manager, however, will have the anxiety lifted from him for the few days before next week’s fixtures when Scotland and Wales travel, respectively, to Belgium and Croatia.