SCOTLAND try again to qualify for a major tournament as they begin their 2018 attempt away to Malta. Scotsman Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) gives us his view.
Malta v Scotland | Sunday 19:45 | Sky Sports 2
So here we are again with Scotland. At the start of another qualifying campaign hoping and praying for a change of fortune but ultimately fearing the worst.
This will be the ninth consecutive qualifying campaign where Scotland go into it on the back of failing in the previous tournament. It’s a sobering thought.
The Scots have had some bad draws in the past but this one looks half-decent. It could have been a lot worse put it that way. Whether they can get into contention is another matter and I sense a real deflation about the national team at the moment.
The fact that England are in the same official qualifying group with Scotland for the first time will add spice and if Gordon Strachan’s men can get to their first match up in November in good shape it will really add fizz to all things Scotland.
The other teams in the group comprise of Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and the minnows of Malta. It’s the Maltese who the Scots face first on Sunday and I think the bookmakers are giving the visitors too much respect.
Quite simply these days for Scotland there are very few easy games in international football. I’m thinking Gibraltar, San Marino and Andorra. Above that are a pocket of sides that they should beat home and away but you could never take it for granted (the likes of Moldova, Luxembourg and indeed Malta).
So armed with those assertions it’s all about Scotland’s price and for me 4/9 is too short. This is a side who’ve lost to Georgia and drawn at home to Macedonia in the last two campaigns and famously failed to beat the Faroe Islands when they were at their worst. Punting Scotland at those prices away from home is high risk. They’ve also not won their campaign opener for 10 years.
I’ve had my eye on Malta as a value proposition for a couple of years now. Their results on paper don’t really illustrate the (small) progress they’ve made in the last two years.
In their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign they conceded 28 goals in 10 matches but that was cut to 16 from the same number of games in their Euro 2016 section.
Both Italy and Croatia recorded just 1-0 wins in Malta in the last campaign and the minnows also lost by that scoreline in Italy and drew in Bulgaria. Walkovers? Not for me.
Since this qualifying group they’ve lost narrowly to Austria and drew in Estonia as well as getting gubbed by Czech Republic to be fair. Overall though I think this could be a tense night for Strachan’s men.
At the prices I’ll back the draw at 4/1 with BWin and also back the Scots to win by exactly one goal at 5/2 with Ladbrokes. This could be an awkward night.
Malta v Scotland – Draw (4/1 BWin)
Malta v Scotland – Scotland to win by one goal (5/2 Ladbrokes)