Gordon Strachan said his appointment as the Scotland manager was “40 years in the making” upon taking the position in January. The new Tartan Army boss got off to the best possible start by winning his maiden match in charge 1-0 against Estonia. That win saw Scotland climb five places to 64th in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
Wales’ leap was even more impressive, jumping 13 places to 68th after a 2-1 win over Austria in which in-form Tottenham Hotspur winger Gareth Bale found the target along with Sam Vokes. It means the Welsh are the closest they have been to their British counterparts since November – after the two sides met in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying towards the end of 2012.
Wales’ highest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is 27th [August 1993 and February March 1994], while Scotland were ranked 13th as recently as October 2007. However, both sides have enjoyed more difficult times of late, with neither side reaching higher than the mid-30s in the last three years.
Wales were the best movers in the Ranking in 2011 though, an announcement made shortly after the tragic death of then-Wales manager Gary Speed. They rose from their lowest-ever position of 117th and reached as high as 37th by the middle of 2012, sitting above Scotland for eight consecutive editions. However, a series of poor results in Brazil 2014 qualifying has seen Chris Coleman’s side drop down since.
The wing wizardry of Bale is seen as a cause for optimism amongst Welsh fans though, with the midfielder in fine form for Spurs. He has scored ten goals in his 11 matches so far in 2013, including that strike at the Liberty Stadium against Austria.
All Rhodes lead to victory
The Scots have their own deadly frontman though. Jordan Rhodes has grabbed eight goals in 13 matches so far this calendar year and the Blackburn Rovers forward has 25 in 40 appearances this season. He made the move to Ewood Park after a remarkable 2011/12 season in England's third-tier, grabbing 40 goals in 46 games for Huddersfield Town. Rhodes scored both goals in Scotland's friendly win over Luxembourg at the end of 2012 and looked threatening from the bench in Strachan’s first game in charge.
With Rhodes firing the goals in at club level, the Tartan Army should certainly be hopeful of restoring some pride to a qualifying campaign which has left much to be desired. The Scots are currently bottom of their UEFA Group A, with two points from their four matches so far.
"I can't ask for anything more than we're doing at the moment,” Strachan said on taking the job. “We're going to use the games to try and win. My philosophy is to win games of football, like Manchester United. We'll give it a go. What I know is that these guys, for all they might get criticised, are the best at what they do. They play for Scotland and we have to find a system that suits these players to win games of football."
With victory in the first game, Strachan’s rallying cry seemed to have worked and Wales will be looking for a similar upturn in fortunes following a comparitively disappointing start to their qualifying campaign.
I think he’s an amazing player, he’s one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with
Their only points in Group A so far came in a win over Scotland at the Cardiff City Stadium and they lost every other game in 2012. But where there is Bale, there is hope for Wales – and for their manager Chris Coleman.
“If he was Argentinian or Brazilian there would be a lot more people saying he’s a world class player,” Coleman told the BBC. “I think he’s an amazing player, he’s one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of working with. The greatest Welsh players I played with were Neville Southall, Ian Rush and Ryan Giggs – world class players. Gareth Bale for me, is at that level.
“Belgium and Croatia are the strongest teams in a very tough group,” he continued. “Something drastic has got to happen to those two and somebody has to go on a great run. I’m not saying it can’t be us – but we’ve just got to finish as high as we can this time to put is in a healthier group for the EUROs.”
The recent upturn in form for both sides will mean the two nations’ forthcoming clash will be a mouth-watering affair. The sides meet at Hampden Park in Glasgow after the Welsh emerged 2-1 victors in their home fixture in October, thanks to two late Bale strikes. The Scots will be hoping the Strachan effect will keep Tottenham's flying winger at bay.