We’re only two games into the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign, but already both Chris Coleman and Craig Levein are under severe pressure to start delivering positive results.
Coleman’s Wales have made a catastrophic start to the campaign, having lost 2-0 at home to Belgium before a crushing 6-1 defeat in Serbia cemented them to the foot of the Group A table.
Levein’s Scotland side played out a lacklustre draw with Serbia at Hampden – a result that looks considerably better on paper than it felt at the time – and an even more disappointing 1-1 draw with Macedonia four days later.
Both managers have faced calls to go from their respective supporters.
The father of late Wales boss Gary Speed was this week forced to come out in defence of Coleman as opposition to his reign heightened, while Levein has been under almost constant pressure to resign since Scotland’s pitiful showing in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, culminating in the former Hearts gaffer being roundly booed by the home fans when his image appeared on the big screens at Hampden during the Macedonia debacle.
The atmosphere is likely to be fantastic. The quality on show is not. But expect a lot of blood, thunder and graft from two teams fighting for their World Cup lives and the professional lives of their respective managers.
And the similarities don’t end there. When FIFA announced their latest world rankings last Wednesday, Scotland had tumbled nine places to 56th, while Wales had fallen 12 places to 57th.
With both sides suffering almost identical woes, even the bookies can barely separate them as they prepare to lock horns at the Cardiff City Stadium. Wales are 7/4 to win the match while Scotland are 31/20 and the draw is on offer at 11/5.
Both under-fire gaffers go into Friday’s game of Russian Roulette knowing that they are just one pull of the trigger away from a fatal hit.
And let’s face it, Russian Roulette is essentially what this is. It seems hard to see how both managers can survive this one. It’s a winner-takes-all scenario where one man’s tenure will surely take a bullet and which one survives could owe as much to a slice of luck than to any sort of tactical masterstroke.
But it’s a game where Levein appears to hold most of the aces. With his back to the wall, the Scotland manager has, in his own words, ‘bitten the bullet’ and recalled Premier League Player of the Month Steven Fletcher to his squad following a prolonged international exile.
The Sunderland striker has scored five times in six games in the Premier League this season and he is 3/2 to score at any time against Wales and 11/2 to score first.
Fletcher is joined by Manchester United namesake Darren, who returns to the fray after long-term injury, and talismanic midfielder Scott Brown, who should be fit to start despite an injury-hit start to the season.
There are also suggestions among the media in Scotland that Levein might abandon his much-maligned 4-5-1 formation for one game only and opt for a more traditional 4-4-2 in what will be, in all honesty, a more traditional ‘British-style’ match.
For Wales, their individual quality is undeniable but their team performances have been few and far between. With the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Joe Ledley in their ranks, the Dragons should be a match for any side on the continent, yet their results so far suggest the opposite.
The atmosphere is likely to be fantastic. The quality on show is not. But expect a lot of blood, thunder and graft from two teams fighting for their World Cup lives and the professional lives of their respective managers. A draw suits neither team, both must go for the win, and this could lead to an exhilarating encounter.
Wales thumped Scotland 3-0 in the same stadium in 2009 in a match which led to George Burley’s sacking (the same scoreline this time is on offer at 25/1) and the same fate will surely face Levein if Scotland turn in a repeat showing this time around.
But with the two Fletchers and Brown back in the team and Levein’s hand potentially forced regarding a more attacking formation, Scotland have got to be considered the favourites in my mind.
New customers who sign up with bwin qualify for a free £20 bet and using that to back Scotland to win at 31/20 will return £51 if successful – and that’s where my money will be going on this one.
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