Scotland face Brazil on Sunday for the first time since the opening game of France 98. I remember rushing home from school to catch the early kickoff. Things did not go well, with Cesar Sampaio scoring after only four minutes. However, just before half time, Scotland won a penalty and John Collins duly converted. It was at this point that I got carried away with myself and thought we could go and win. That was until a mix up in the Scotland box, led to Boyd knocking the ball into his own net. The match finished 2-1 and was followed by a 1-1 draw with Norway and a 3-0 loss to Morocco, which left us bottom of our group and unable to progress.
Many Scotland fans, myself included, were initially confused with the choice of The Emirates as the location of the friendly, but technically Brazil are the home team and as such, have the pick of the ground. With the game being part of Brazil’s world tour, London, with its undoubted number of Brazil admirers, and proximity to Scotland, seemed a sensible choice for both teams.
In the build up to the game, Craig Levein has suffered a number of injury call offs. Friendlies are often seen as second rate by players and, perhaps more so, their clubs and i suspect that this has had a bearing on the call offs, which include Iain Turner, Steven Naismith and Phil Bardsley. The absence of Naismith in particular led Levein to call up Peterborough striker Craig Mackail-Smith, who has an impressive 53% scoring record for his current club, albeit in English League One.
The match itself is a friendly and that may have some bearing on Leveins substitutions, however, I believe he will start with as strong a team as possible. The following is my proposed starting lineup in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
In goals, I tip Allan McGregor to start again in goals. McGregor was tasked with keeping goal after Craig Gordon was injured, but I still see him keeping the jersey as Gordon is seriously lacking match fitness after spending time on the Sunderland bench.
In defence, I hope to see Alan Hutton at right back. Steven Whittaker and Mark Wilson have strong claims, but Hutton is the most exciting right back Scotland has had in years. His pace and ability to actually take on a man is very exciting, especially from a full back.
At left back, I am going to go for Steven Whittaker. Although he is naturally right footed, he can do a job at left back. Whittaker doesn’t have the pace that Hutton does on the other side of the pitch, but the way he can take on a player is amazing. He doesn’t have the fancy footwork that the likes of Aiden McGeady, or Chrstiano Ronaldo, but he can read a player as well as them and knows just when the tackle is coming and how to evade it. His recent performance in the League Cup final, when he was moved into the unfamiliar centre half role, underpins his defensive capabalities.
The first player at centre half has to be Gary Caldwell. From the current selection, he is the most experienced centre half we have and when playing against a team with such attacking brilliance, this will be invaluable. The player himself has his doubters, but I still see him as a Scotland regular.
The second centre half position might have went to Danny Wilson, had he been a regular starter at Liverpool, but I don’t want to risk playing someone with as little match fitness, so i will go for Christophe Berra. Berra is not the most exciting choice, but as a regular player in the Premier League, he is used to playing against top class opposition.
The holding role is going to go to Charlie Adam, who has impressed many with his rise from squad player at Rangers, to being the heartbeat of the Blackpool team and integral to their attempts at Premier League survival. The holding role can consist of two different styles. One, to protect your back four, with Lee McCulloch being a perfect example of this, with the alternative being, placing a playmaker in the hole, who can take the ball from the back four and dictate the play going forward. Paul Scholes is perhaps the best example of this second style, but Charlie Adam is definitely in that mould. Adam has the knack of spotting a pass that many would deem impossible and casually deliver it right to the players feet. One slight critiscm I have, is that he often goes for the Hollywood pass, but when it works out as often as it does for him, then who can blame him.
On the right of midfield, I am going to choose James Morrison. I am a massive fan of players who can take on a defender and Morrison has shown he can do that in Scotland jersey. His height is also beneficial when cutting inside when play is on the other flank. Perhaps its not a good idea to discuss what could have been, but Steven Naismith would have featured in this position if he had been fit.
Kris Commons is the man for the left of midfield. My first memory of Commons was when he came on as a sub against Macedonia in 2008. The game was in Macedonia in the middle of summer and the heat was in the high thirties, yet he still wore a long sleeve shirt! Looking beyond his shirt choice, he has always shown he is worthy of selection in a Scotland shirt, but his time at Celtic since his January move has further cemented that. Three goals and two assists in only five games in the SPL, is a very impressive stat, with the goals ratio even more impressive since he is a midfielder.
The squad is a little light for the middle of the park, especially when I am looking for three central players, but I would almost always choose Scott Brown in my starting line up. I love his desire to chase things, even when there is little chance of him getting there. That alone could be a bad thing, but he has the stamina to back it up.
The other central midfield spot will go to Barry Bannan. When he made his debut for Scotland I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t know that much about him. Since then i have made a point of watching him whenever Villa were playing (not seen him play for Leeds yet) and I am very impressed. In the build up to one match, Sky Sports showed clips of his best bits and it was absolutely jaw dropping the kind of passes he was doing. He is still young, but i am more than happy to start him.
In the lone striker role is a man who thrives in that position – Kenny Miller. Miller managed to score twenty one goals in only eighteen league appearances for Rangers this season and since his move to Turkey, he has scored four in nine league appearances, which are stats that almost any striker in the world would be envious off. One negative is that Miller has not often shown this form on the international stage, although it would be foolish to discount him for that sole reason, especially with his club stats looking so impressive.
From the bench, I would like to see appearances from Danny Wilson, who I see as the future of our defence, and Robert Snodgrass, who has particularly impressed at Leeds this season and even gained a write up by one of our guest writers – Snodgrass for Scotland.
The Brazil squad is missing some big name players, such as Pato, Nilmar, Kaka and Robinho, but there are still some top players left that will challenge Scotland. Lucio, Maicon, Elano are just some of the names that many will recognise, but for me the most exciting is the inclusion of Dani Alves. He is, in my opinion, the best attacking right back in the world and is an example of how the position should be played in the modern game. His attacking prowess, is underlined by the fact that Barcelona have played him as part of a front three, although his normal position is right back. A player that will be one to watch for the future, is Neymar, who is a recent target for Chelsea, who are reportedly willing to spend £30 million to bring him to Stamford Bridge in the summer. Barcelona are also rumoured to be keen, so Santos’ 19 year old forward, is one to keep an eye on.
Many will say that Sunday’s game is a friendly and the actual result doesn’t matter, but the game counts towards our world rankings and a loss could lead to Scotland dropping eleven places. Also, with no competitive matches until we face the Czech Republic in September, it is essential that Levein can take advantage of this game and build a picture of his best team and the best formation.
I am a romantic and I would love for Scotland to surprise many and win this one, but I suspect that Brazil will have the majority of the position and come away with an easy win, perhaps being 3-1.