As Scotland slid down 10 places from 16th to 26th in the latest round of FIFA’s world rankings, is it possible that the country’s hysteria over the exploits at both club and country level last term has finally died down?
Consider the evidence; Rangers fell at the first hurdle as they were dumped out of Europe altogether by Hearts’ reserve team (Kaunas to you and me), Queen of the South and Motherwell are out of the UEFA Cup, and Celtic will need a minor miracle to reach the last 16 of the Champions’ League after an unimpressive start.
Scotland suffered defeat to Macedonia and despite winning over Iceland, the nation’s default setting of pessimism has set in. It’s a long way off the smiling faces of a year ago.
So is Scottish football in decline already?
Probably not. Rangers were cocky if anything, feeling that as UEFA Cup runners up, a win over Kaunas was a given. This certainly seemed to be the case as the club was prepared to launch its new European kit just a week after the Kaunas clash, plans which, of course, were thrown out the window.
Celtic’s group is a tough one, they were drawn with the holders (for the second year running) and a highly impressive Villarreal side who finished second in La Liga last season. Aalborg have also proved themselves a banana skin for Gordon Strachan’s side. Queen of the South were never going to go particularly far and Motherwell were beaten by a well put together Nancy side, who themselves had a very good league campaign last season.
Perhaps luck just hasn’t been on their side. Aberdeen certainly had lady luck shining down on them when they reached the last 32 of the UEFA Cup last season, as did Rangers on their way to the final. Werder Bremen, Sporting and Fiorentina are all undoubtedly better sides than Rangers, but hard defending and often playing for the draw won the day for Rangers, all the up till the final itself.
The national team are in yet another process of rebuilding under their third manager in almost as many years. They’ve missed the presence of captain Barry Ferguson and highly talented right back Alan Hutton, both injured. But two games into the qualifying campaign is still too early to tell anything concrete, and dropping ten places is not the end of the world, given that the rankings mean little on the football pitch itself.
So what happens next? Can Celtic as Scotland’s only European representatives get it together and reach the fabled last 16? For football’s sake all of Scotland should be hoping so. It’s not over until it’s over, and Manchester United are beatable. It’ll be a stern test but one that Celtic can manage to pass. Maybe that, coupled with a win in the next round of internationals, will see a proud country’s spirits raised once more to the jubilant scenes of last year.
We can only hope.