Why Lithuania was a must-win game for Scotland

October 10, 2016


If it is any consolation at all, you can take solace in the knowledge that our qualifying campaign for Russia 2018 is already over. Bells were ringing out like a Polyphonic Spree concert when our glorious leader indicated that he wasn’t particularly bothered about Lithuania, indicating that our Saturday night showdown was not a “must-win” game.

History, however, is not on the side of Strachan, in this respect. There is no great mystery as to why Scotland fail to qualify for international tournaments, and as we start to pick through the remains of the tenth qualifying campaign since we took on Bobby Carlos and Bebeto in Paris, it is once again our home form which will cost us qualification.

In each campaign since every second Scots male ‘went out for a loaf of bread’ only to end up wandering around the 7th arrondissement, our home form has been the make-or-break factor in our qualification, as I’ll now explain:

Euro 2000

A campaign which can be treated as success. A Czech side featuring Poborsky, Berger, Nedved and Koller swept all before it in qualifying. Conceding only five goals on its way to a perfect 30 points. Scotland won four home games against Bosnia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Faroes, losing to the Czechs at Parkhead. Home results made up 12 of our 18 points, with three draws, a win against Bosnia and a further lost to the Czechs away. Losing at home to England in the playoff ultimately put us out, despite a valiant effort at Wembley.

World Cup 2002

Craig Brown’s final campaign as Scotland boss saw us throw away qualification on an afternoon in March. Scotland were two up against Belgium within half an hour, as Billy Dodds put us in control of the match with an early goal and a penalty, which saw full-back Eric Deflandre sent off. Scotland finished the campaign two points behind the Belgians, with two home wins against Latvia and San Marino, and draws against Croatia and Belgium. While a win against Croatia at home could have tipped the balance, failing to capitalise on a winning position against the Belgians in game 3 was the deciding factor.

Euro 2004

Much like Euro 2000, a campaign where we played precisely to our level. Berti took us to a playoff, winning three at home against Iceland, Lithuania and the Faroes, and drew with Germany. Took a hiding against the Dutch in Amsterdam after Rab Douglas forgot he had hands.

World Cup 2006

A dreadful campaign, as Berti’s boys fell to bits at the start of qualification, only to surge back under Walter Smith and in the end, miss out after a home loss (funnily enough). A single home win against Moldova, two draws against Slovenia (to date, the worst game of football ever played) and Italy, and losses to Belarus and Norway saw Scotland finish third, five points behind the Scandinavians. No kidding about, one of our worst qualifying campaigns ever, taking five points from a possible fifteen at home. Losing to Norway in game 2 sealed our fate.

Euro 2008

The one that still leaves me wakening in cold sweats, and the closest we’ve come to qualifying. The campaign was built on the fortress that Hampden became. Playing a back five, playing Caldwell or Alexander in midfield, cheering tackles and bodies flying everywhere, Scotland clawed, bit and scratched its way to a famous victory against France, demolished the Faroes at Parkhead, played trick-play free-kicks against the Ukraine, defeated snide in a win over Lithuania and erupted as Craig Beattie shinned one in against Georgia. While the defeat away in Georgia should not be discounted, beating Italy at Hampden would’ve taken us through.

World Cup 2010

A campaign that saw us fail to even make it to the best eight runners up. Wins at home to Iceland and Macedonia and a draw against Norway gave us seven of our ten points in the group, somehow keeping a squad with Kirk Broadfoot in it in vague contention to go through; until we lost to the Dutch at Hampden. A win against them and Norway would have seen us into the playoffs.

Euro 2012:

The new dawn Craig Levein brought to Scotland had a terribly similar feeling to it. The toothless performance in Prague will always be the abiding memory of this campaign, but even with that in mind, beating the Czechs at Hampden would have seen us advance to the playoffs. In a game we led twice, a 90th minute penalty saw Scotland’s chances evaporate.

World Cup 2014

Another campaign and another disastrous start saw Scotland take two points from six against Macedonia and an ailing Serbia. Further misery was piled on by Wales, losing 2-1 after taking the lead at the end of the first half. A win on the final day against Croatia hinted at a recovery, of sorts, but far too late in the day to start checking air fares to Rio. Scotland ended up with five points from a possible fifteen at home. Once again, victories at home would have placed Scotland in the playoffs.

Euro 2016

Much like 2008, the loss away in Georgia could be considered the turning point in the campaign, but also like 2008, a victory in our final home game should have given us third place, and qualification. Wins against Georgia, Gibraltar and a rip-snorted against Ireland put us in a good position from the first half of the group. While a loss to Germany could be expected, both Ireland and Poland turned them over at home, in addition to Poland’s crucial last minute equaliser ended Scotland’s chances.

World Cup 2018

All of this brings us to Saturday. While we have the numerous scenarios which can play out in front of us over the next 18 months, the fundamental remains: Scotland are failing to win our home games, and it will cost us again.


Written by Graeme Thewliss

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