We have a couple of Rangers players involved in International duty this week, and some big matches await them.
PORTUGAL – BRUNO ALVES
ANDORRA v PORTUGAL
Ok, so this isn’t the big game. But Portugal currently sit 3 points behind Switzerland in the group, and face them in the last game. They need to win this first game, and keep an eye on Switzerland against Hungary before knowing what’s required in the final fixture.
Alves is back in full training, prompting many Rangers fans to question whether he should have been involved last weekend. With the result and another chance for McCrorie to play, it’s all academic now. Given the options Portugal have in defence, the use of Alves will be interesting. If he plays in both games, or only plays against Switzerland, it suggests he’s still considered the main man at centre half and has some time to serve there yet.
Portugal should win this match by a couple of goals and build up nicely to a big match on the 10th of October.
NORTHERN IRELAND – LEE HODSON
NORTHERN IRELAND v GERMANY
Northern Ireland have done a cracking job so far, and are set to get to the playoffs. Sitting 5 points behind Germany, it would take a minor miracle for them to take top spot now. However, they will want to put that seed of doubt into the German players by winning tonight.
Germany and Northern Ireland have the best defensive records of any European sides in qualifying so far. Having both conceded only 2 goals, you’d expect the game to be tight. At Windsor Park, Northern Ireland are capable of beating anyone in recent years. However, this is a huge test, and Germany seem to be one of those nations who don’t suffer shock defeats too often.
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I don’t think Hodson will play in this one, but he may come in if his team want to be more solid. He’s been used as someone to offer better defensive nous at fullback in the main. Northern Ireland don’t have anything to lose, though, so I think they’ll go for it a bit more.
SCOTLAND v SLOVAKIA
Yes, I know. We’re not supposed to care about the Scotland squad these days.
But I do. I haven’t been able to switch that off. And they face essentially two knockout matches in trying to make the playoffs. I also believe that Scotland getting to a major tournament would boost the game up here overall.
Tonight Scotland face Slovakia, a more than decent side. There’s been a lot of talk about the cup finals we face, almost an assumption that this home game will be won. With a couple of key players injured, Scotland will be up against it. Slovakia are also missing a couple, but Marek Hamsik is fit and will be the main threat. They are a side full of ability and experience at a high level. Any notion that this game is one we should win is fanciful.
It is winnable, but is going to require the best performance from the team in years. We’re treading that strange line of being somehow considered favourites in a game we should be underdogs. Strachan has suggested that Barry Bannan is likely to start the game, which will dismay many. There’s no doubt he has some ability, but he’s rarely played well for the national team. A midfield 3 of Fletcher, McArthur and Morrison should be ahead of the other options at the moment. I hope that Phillips is kept in the team, but there’s a few difficult decisions to be made.
I know many Rangers fans won’t care, but I’ll be watching with interest tonight. I don’t expect Scotland to be able to get to the playoff, but part of being a Scotland fan is the build up of hope to be dashed by failure. Getting a win tonight would just set up for that defeat on Sunday beautifully…