[SCOTLAND-USA] Until it started beating up on mostly weak Concacaf opposition over the summer, the USA's only rout under Jurgen Klinsmann was a 5-1 win over Scotland in May 2012. Lumping the Scots with the likes of Belize and Cuba is bad enough. But they've fallen so low that they were the first European team eliminated from the World Cup. That's right: Even the likes of Andorra and San Marino lasted longer than Scotland, out after accumulating only two points in its first six games.
But there's a ray of hope in Scotland as Gordon Strachan, who took over as coach this year, led the Scots to wins over Croatia -- a team that is still alive in the European playoffs -- in both their qualifiers.
The 2-0 win at Hampden Park last month was so embarrassing for Croatia that its coach, Igor Stimac, offered to resign afterward even though it still has a playoff series ahead of it.
Thanks to goals from Robert Snodgrass and Steven Naismith, Scotland finished fourth in its group -- a turnaround from Strachan's first competitive match, a 2-1 loss to Wales at Hampden Park in the snow.
“Hopefully we’ve made the nation happy tonight,” Strachan said after the Croatia game. “It was a nice way to finish the week. The week has been hopefully enjoyable but hard work, so when you put that kind of hard work in it’s always nice to get a performance and a win."
The Wales loss was particularly demoralizing as the Scots were ahead 1-0 with 20 minutes to play when Snodgrass was sent off. Within three minutes, the Welsh had gone ahead.
“Big difference from the first game, against Wales,” Strachan said after the Croatia game. “The players have gradually turned it round and they can be really proud of themselves. It’s a confidence thing. You’ve got to dig out things – results, performances, take a few knocks, and eventually it gets better."
It's better, yes, but still Scotland still has a long way to go. It's now eight straight tournaments -- four World Cups and four European Championships -- that Scotland has failed to qualify for the finals. Club form of Scottish teams has dropped so much Scotland now ranks 23rd in the UEFA country rankings used to place clubs in European competitions.
With another 10 months or so to go before they play their next competitive game, the Scots don't want to let their recent momentum slip away in the friendlies they play before Euro 2016 qualifying begins next fall.
"You can do a lot of damage in eight or nine games," Mark McGhee, Strachan's assistant, said, "as well as build a positive environment. We have started to build something positive and we don't want to lose that. Therefore, this game becomes very important."
GOALKEEPERS:Scott Fox (Partick Thistle), Matt Gilks (Blackpool), David Marshall (Cardiff City).
DEFENDERS:Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town), Gordon Greer (Brighton), Grant Hanley (Blackburn), Alan Hutton (Aston Villa), Russell Martin (Norwich City), Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic), Lee Wallace (Rangers), Steven Whittaker (Norwich City).
MIDFIELDERS:Charlie Adam (Stoke City), Ikechi Anya (Watford), Barry Bannan (Crystal Palace), Scott Brown (Celtic), Craig Bryson (Derby County), James Morrison (West Brom), James McArthur (Wigan), Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City), *Gary Mackay-Steven (Dundee United), *Craig Conway (Brighton & Hove Albion).
FORWARDS:Steven Fletcher (Sunderland), Steven Naismith (Everton), Matt Phillips (Queens Park Rangers), Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn).