Chris Coleman has watched his team suffer a 2-0 reverse against Belgium and a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Serbia, while the Scots have endured successive stalemates with the Serbians and FYR Macedonia. Those results, coupled with the strong starts of the teams above them, have left each country with work to do if hopes of a long-awaited return to the world stage are to be maintained.
The current situation is somewhat different to that which brought the British pair together exactly 35 years ago today, when Anfield was the venue for a decisive fixture on the road to Argentina 1978. A 3-1 victory over Czechoslovakia in their previous encounter meant Scotland travelled to Liverpool knowing that another win would ensure their passage to the showpiece and render the final Group 7 match between the Czechoslovaks and the Welsh irrelevant.
With one victory and one defeat on their record, Wales, for their part, required back-to back triumphs over Scotland and then Czechoslovakia. But their challenge was over long before Mike Smith and his players reached Prague.
Penalty puts Scots on their way
In front of more than 50,000 spectators at Anfield, the score remained goalless until the 79th minute. Then, a long, deep throw into the Welsh penalty area forced a handball, and a ticket to South America was within 12 yards of Scotland.
Don Masson, who would miss a penalty against Peru in Argentina the following year, kept his nerve to convert the spot-kick and hand Ally MacLeod’s team an advantage. Eight minutes later, the lead was doubled.
A strong run down the right by substitute Martin Buchan concluded with a perfect delivery into the Wales area. Having matched his late run to meet the swinging cross, Kenny Dalglish – playing on his new home ground after joining Liverpool two months previously – sent a glancing header into the far corner and Scotland to the FIFA World Cup.
The Tartan Army set off for Argentina with the optimistic words of MacLeod, who was convinced that his team could challenge for the Trophy, ringing in their ears. But a shock defeat by Peru followed by a draw with Iran meant that even a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands failed to keep Scotland in the tournament.
Wales were left with only disappointment too. Their qualifying campaign for 1978 concluded with a 1-0 defeat in Czechoslovakia, and the Dragons have failed in every subsequent attempt to reach the finals, with their journey to the quarter-finals in 1958 remaining their only appearance on the game's biggest stage.