James McFadden urges Scotland to park emotion of Ukraine play-off and focus on Qatar 2022 qualification

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
A Scotland fan shows his support for the people of Ukraine and, inset, James McFadden
A Scotland fan shows his support for the people of Ukraine and, inset, James McFadden

AS someone who has been involved in two of the nine play-off matches that Scotland have played in their history, James McFadden should be well placed to offer an opinion on next week’s eagerly-awaited encounter with Ukraine.

Unfortunately, the former Tartan Army favourite has fuzzy memories of the Euro 2004 qualifying double header against the Netherlands back in 2003. “Was there two games?” he asked with a mischievous smile.

McFadden enjoyed one of his finest moments in a dark blue jersey in the first match against the Dutch in front of a 50,670-strong crowd at Hampden. He put his country ahead at a well-worked corner in the 20th minute. His strike ultimately secured a narrow 1-0 triumph for Berti Vogts’ team.

The rematch in the Amsterdam ArenA four days later, though, did not go quite so well. Dick Advocaat’s star-studded side romped to an emphatic 6-0 triumph thanks in no small part to a Ruud van Nistelrooy hat-trick.

However, the 48-times capped 39-year-old can still vividly remember the backing that Scotland received from their fans in the first leg and recall how their support helped to a secure an unexpected 1-0 triumph over opponents who were placed fifth in the FIFA World Rankings at the time.

McFadden firmly believes that Steve Clarke’s men, who are on an eight game unbeaten run, can prevail in the Qatar 2022 play-off-semi-final in midweek and progress to final against Wales in Cardiff four days later thanks to the sell-out crowd.

“We went into that Netherlands game with hope rather than an expectation,” he said. “We knew we were up against a strong side. They were world class players playing at the top level and for us to perform we knew we had to play as a team.

“But the support was there. I speak about the Hampden Roar constantly, but that was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in.

“Ukraine is going to be a tough game and there is going to be a huge emotional element to it as well. But I think we just have to concentrate on what we have been doing and approach the game believing we can win it.”

The football world will be willing Ukraine to beat Scotland on Wednesday night; the visitors will take to the field in a competitive fixture for the first time since the Russian invasion of their country back in February.

Yet, McFadden, who is now a pundit for Sky Sports and will be offering his expert view on proceedings at Hampden from the stands, is confident Andy Robertson and his team mates will be fully focused on triumphing.

“Ukraine are certainly going to be the team that everyone wants to win in the play-off,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. But we have to deal with it. We have to respect the situation over in Ukraine. For us it’s a football match, but for them it’s so much more.

“The atrocities that are happening in Ukraine are horrifying. Is there an end in sight for them? I don’t know. Ukraine have decided they can play the game and the emotional side has to leave our players.

“When the game comes around, you want to win. Ukraine won’t want any favours. They won’t want people not to turn up. They will want a game because that’s what is right. But it is strange circumstances, no doubt.”

Like so many Scotland supporters, McFadden was impressed with how the national team finished their Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign; they beat Moldova, Austria, Israel, the Faroes Islands and Moldova again to clinch second spot in Group F and a place in the play-offs and then defeated section winners Denmark in their last match.

“We were brilliant,” he said. “We beat a Denmark side that had not lost a game and had only conceded one goal. They were a strong side, but we were better than them. People may say Denmark had nothing to play for, but they wanted to finish the group with 10 wins.

“We didn’t beat them by sitting in and defending. It was no smash-and-grab against a bigger side. We played the way we wanted to play against a top 10 nation. That was a moment where you think: ‘This is a different way of playing for Scotland’. We are good. We’ve got good players.”

The former Everton playmaker knows that having so many players performing at a high level in the Premier League has been important to Scotland – but he thinks that Clarke deserves enormous praise for the revival his country has enjoyed in the past three years.

“Huge credit goes to Steve Clarke because we’ve got really good players within a good atmosphere,” he said. “People want to turn up and that’s not easy. We’ve got a group of players who won’t call off for friendlies, although there are fewer friendlies these days. He’s got a group of players who believe in each other.

“There’s guys like Andy Robertson who is chasing a treble with Liverpool alongside guys who are fighting against relegation from the Scottish Premiership. But there is no divide. They are all in it together. Getting that harmony in the squad is key.”

McFadden knows that beating Euro 2020 quarter-finalists Ukraine at home and then Wales away will be tough – but he feels that if Scotland can reach their first World Cup since France ’98 they will travel to Qatar with confidence.

“Don’t get me started,” he said. “I’m the biggest believer in Scotland. No Scotland team has got out of the group stages. Denmark go into it as dark horses because they’ve got good individuals who play together as a team and they’ve got a bit of belief. Why can’t that be Scotland?

“People may laugh and say I’m deluded, but why not? I’ve never played in a game when I thought ‘What’s the point? We are going to get beat’. Without a doubt, we’ve got top class players in our squad. We’ve now got players who might be on the bench but they are Premier League players in England or winning titles or fighting for European trophies.

“We are in a good place. Are we going to win the next 10 games? That’s a tough ask, but why can’t we win the next game?”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting