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Wales and Scotland seek salvation in critical contest for managers

11th October 2012

• Chris Coleman and Craig Levein both want first qualifying win
• Steven Fletcher’s return could prove decisive for Scotland

It is early in the World Cup qualifiers, yet the shadows must be lengthening for some managers. Wales have no points at all and Chris Coleman’s line-up has conceded a total of eight goals during two matches. The plight of Scotland, their opponents in Cardiff on Friday, is less severe but a pair of draws at Hampden did not suggest that Craig Levein’s men are surging towards the finals in Brazil.

The lack of status is underlined on fifa.com. Anyone who goes to the 2012 World Cup pages and clicks on “profile” for Scotland or Wales will find a blank. They are far from being the only countries to be disregarded in such a manner, but it is unsettling to keep company with, say, Andorra. This is a reminder that a long and intermittently distinguished history carries no guarantee of prominence.

Scotland, by their own standards, have taken a plunge. Some fans appreciate now that they were privileged to attend the World Cup finals on six out of seven occasions between 1974 and 1998. There is a far smaller store of colourful reminiscence to be drawn upon since then.

For bleak reasons, the encounter in Cardiff could be hotly contested. If the managers are not at risk of the sack immediately it may be because it is hard to be sure that anyone else willing to fill the vacancy would do better. That factor, all the same, never keeps an incumbent out of harm’s way for long.

With the exception of the appearance at the 1958 World Cup, Wales have had few tales to tell of giddy achievement. On occasion, there are outstanding talents in the ranks, and many of Coleman’s peers would be overjoyed to find Gareth Bale in their squad.

There is no sense of either nation lapsing into melancholy just yet. Scotland, in particular, look sound if not exciting. Too much emphasis could be placed on the return of Steven Fletcher after a two-year estrangement from Levein. The forward resented being left out of the action in key qualifiers for Euro 2012.

Managers, in the end, have to be realistic and Scotland, with their lack of incisive attackers, cannot afford to turn a blind eye to Fletcher when he is thriving with Sunderland following a £12m move from Wolverhampton Wanderers.

It is assumed that he will be reinstated in the starting line-up for his country and that, in turn, will put him under immediate pressure to inspire a revival in these qualifiers.

The striker will be encouraged by the thought that he has scored twice in three matches at club level when pitted against Ashley Williams, who was made Wales’s new captain after the armband was taken from Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey. With one goal, against Iceland, after eight appearances, Fletcher, however, still joins Levein in having much to prove.

Coleman, too, is in difficulties and that is reflected in the restoration of the armband to Williams, who has led the national team on four previous occasions. “I have spoken to Aaron and he said congratulations,” the Swansea captain reported. “We kind of laughed and that was it really – no big deal. We get on fine.”

It cannot be so easy for Coleman to be so relaxed when his record is comprised of four successive defeats. “After the results I think you are always going to get criticised, especially him – being the manager,” said Williams. “We have enjoyed working with him. We really want to win for him as well. He is going to be criticised and we would like to turn that around for him because we have kind of let him down on the pitch and we would like to put that right.”

Neither side can be transformed by the outcome of this match. The victorious manager, however, will have the anxiety lifted from him for the few days before next week’s fixtures when Scotland and Wales travel, respectively, to Belgium and Croatia.

Wales (4-4-2, possible): Brown; Blake, Williams, Nyatanga, Gunter; Allen, Ledley, Ramsey, Bale; Morison, Vokes.

Scotland (4-4-1-1, possible): McGregor; Hutton, Caldwell, Berra, Mulgrew; Forrest, Brown, D Fletcher, Morrison; Commons; S Fletcher.

Referee F Meyer (Germany)


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