As a player he played for Dundee, Aberdeen, Manchester United, Leeds and Coventry. As a manager he successfully led Coventry, Southampton, Celtic and Middlesborough. Now, though, Gordon Strachan faces the biggest challenge of his career so far as he takes charge of Scotland in a competitive match for the first time against Wales on Friday night.
The edge has been taken off his debut slightly, however, by the fact that Scotland’s defeat to Wales in Cardiff in October under previous manager Craig Levein all but extinguished their World Cup qualifying hopes, meaning that there is little more than pride and world ranking points to play for at Hampden Park.
Nevertheless, getting off to a good start and building some momentum is crucial if Strachan is to be a long-term success in the job that he has, in his own words, waited his whole life to do. It won’t, however, be easy.
Scotland have beaten Wales just once in their last seven meetings stretching back to 1985, with the Dragons winning five of those games, including both of the last two matches at Hampden Park.
On top of that, they boast one of world football’s hottest properties in Tottenham attacker Gareth Bale, and stopping him will be crucial to Scotland’s chances of getting back on track on Friday night.
It was Bale’s strike at the Cardiff Stadium that condemned Levein’s side to defeat and all-but ended the manager’s unsuccessful time in charge of the national side, and the in-form star has also scored four of Wales’ last five goals in all competitions.
Bale is 5/1 to score the first goal at Hampden and 7/5 to score at any time – odds which are likely to prove popular for punters in this one.
Despite this, Chris Coleman’s side are still 7/2 outsiders to take three points in Glasgow, compared to odds of 39/50 on Strachan’s men and 12/5 on the draw.
This is probably based in part on the anticipated ‘Strachan effect’, as well as the fact that Scotland are unbeaten at home in any match since losing 3-2 to Spain in October 2010 – their only home defeat in three and a half years.
Scotland will rely on Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher for goals and he is 9/2 to score first and 6/5 to score at any time. The identity of Fletcher’s striker partner, if any, is not certain, but Jordan Rhodes is available at 7/5 to score at anytime, with Kenny Miller at 17/10, Steven Naismith at 11/4, Shaun Maloney at 9/4 and new-boy George Boyd at 9/5.
With both sides looking likely to find the net, backing both teams to score at 87/100 looks like a great bet, as does backing Scotland to win 2-1 at 15/2.
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