It was all going so well. Scotland were leading England in the semi-final of a…
The World Cup kicks off on Thursday night when hosts Russia face Saudi Arabia. It’s hardly the most exciting tournament opener but nonetheless hundreds of millions of fans around the globe will tune in to watch football’s greatest festival begin.
Of course, Scotland being Scotland, we won’t be there. The tournament at the pinnacle of international football has once again passed us by, continuing our grand tradition of yet another disappointing qualifying campaign. The World Cup might lack the general madness we’ve come to expect from our domestic game, but there’s still plenty for Scottish fans to take in.
The first, most pertinent reason for Scots to take an interest in the World Cup is that we’re given an opportunity to see future opponents in action in competitive games. In this sense, the tournament in Russia presents the perfect chance to learn about teams we’re scheduled to face in the UEFA Nations League or in the European Championship qualifiers.
Watching future adversaries as they compete against the world’s best gives Alex McLeish and his staff time to analyse and learn from their mistakes. In all likelihood, Scotland will face two countries represented in Russia in our qualifying group for the 2020 Euros. Watching them in action at the World Cup will ultimately provide a more detailed preparation for when we eventually face them – the importance of this, particularly at international level where coaches have limited time with their squads, cannot be underplayed.
As well as learning about future direct opponents, the World Cup also allows managers to learn and observe tactical innovations that could have wide-ranging implications. The 1970 edition of Brazil, the Dutch side of 1974 and Spain’s 2010 team all left an indelible mark on the global game and irrevocably changed it. The ideas that drove these teams might not have been initially conceived at international level, but it’s arguably where they were most effectively and memorably deployed.
If coaches are to remain ahead of the curve and up-to-date with the latest tactical revolutions, then what better event than one that includes the best countries from all around the world, each one showcasing a style of football unique to their own culture? It’s a melting pot, with various ideas about how the beautiful game should be played. The diversity in approach should interest any student of the game and watching opposing systems face against each other can be very telling about which tactics work best in certain situations.
For fans of clubs at the summit of Scottish football, the World Cup can act as a showcase for potential transfers. Efrain Juarez, Vladimir Weiss, Cha Du-Ri and Emilio Izaguirre all earned moves to Scotland after impressing for their respective nations at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The high standard of competition means that most Scottish cubs are priced out of moves for players who capture the world’s gaze but for the likes of Celtic, Rangers or Aberdeen, bargains can be found.
Players representing smaller or mid-size nations can be snapped up and the World Cup gives them a platform to demonstrate their abilities in high-pressure situations. Fans get to learn about a previously unknown player and can gauge their ability and temperament, giving them a much clearer idea of what to expect once a player signs for their club.
Of course, without a team representing Scotland it can be a little difficult to become truly invested in a World Cup. Thankfully for the Tartan Army though, England did qualify for Russia so Scottish fans will at least have Tunisia, Panama and Belgium to cheer on. Rooting against England often results in lots of eye-rolling down south along with the usual accusations of jealousy and immaturity.
Yes, it’s undoubtedly petty and childish, but there’s a tremendous amount of schadenfreude in watching England implode on the world stage. And anyway, we’re Scottish football fans – we are petty and childish. Watching England get battered off a genuine contender or slip up against a minnow is just about the only joy left for followers of our national team. It might result in disapproving glares from the Auld Enemy but it remains fun to watch our old rivals get carried away after a decent performance, only to get mercilessly dragged back to reality whenever they have the misfortune of lining up against a genuinely world class side.
With just three days to go until the World Cup begins, it can be tempting to turn a blind eye and say there’s nothing for Scottish fans to gain from watching the finals. However, Scottish football will be affected by the goings-on in Russia – whether via the influence of innovative tactics or incoming players earning a move to the Premiership. But we should be watching for more than practical reasons – the World Cup provides the biggest talking points, the greatest glories and arguably the most meaningful matches in world football. Even though Scotland aren’t there, you’d be mad to miss it.