Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Home Nations need Reality Check

Two years ago, during European Championships qualification, Scotland scored two late goals to overcome Liechtenstein 2-1 at Hampden Park, a result that kept their flickering qualification hopes alive  - barely.

This week, a fellow British team pulled respect from the jaws of defeat as Northern Ireland scored late on to draw 1-1 with the Azerbaijan, with old boy, David Healy, coming up trumps.

In both games the home crowds went wild – more out of relief than delight of beating a major rival. The apparent embarrassment of losing to such lowly footballing nations would have left Northern Ireland the laughing stock of Group F had they fallen to Azerbaijan at home.

Yet should we still expect our home nations to ‘perform’ on the international stage? When Scotland beat Liechtenstein, back in September 2010, there was a feeling around Hampden that they deserved victory before kick off, such is the history of football in Scotland and their domestic league strength compared to Liechtenstein.

It is a feeling many England fans and Betfair football pundits voiced when playing Macedonia and, recently, Moldova: ‘Why should we play these small teams in qualifying, let them play each other so we can get on with it.’

This unfortunate attitude is very dangerous for the greater good of football that does not focus solely on the home nations. For none of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales have any divine right to overturn international opponents, despite the history and development apparently in our domestic leagues.

International football has grown since these four were even remotely powerhouses in the game and we can now expect ‘smaller’ nations, such as Azerbaijan, Macedonia, and Moldova, to put up a fight against our national teams.

It may be embarrassing to draw or lose to such lowly opposition, but they nevertheless have as much right to play international football as we do and fans must realise this before they criticise their teams for apparent underachievement.