England host Scotland at Wembley tomorrow evening, which marks the first match between the two nations for over a decade. But is this just another friendly to add to an already-full calendar, or the re-kindling of a classic football rivalry?
The two countries have met 110 times in the past, and Scotland has a slight historical edge over its southern neighbours, with 45 wins to England’s 41.
England versus Scotland internationals have produced some classic matches in the past, such as England’s Paul Gascoigne-inspired EURO 96 victory and Scotland’s unofficial World Championship win at Wembley in 1967.
The last time the two countries met was in November 1999, when Don Hutchison scored to give the Scots a 1-0 win at Wembley in the second leg of a EURO 2000 play-off.
While the English players might be more concerned with the start of the Premier League season, and The Sun asked mid-week ‘Does anyone care about England v Scotland?’; this is more than a friendly for those in the Scottish camp.
“I don’t think anyone has to be wound up for a game against England,” said Scottish Football Association president Campbell Ogilvie. The Scottish footballing pride is in need of restoration, and it could begin at Wembley.
“Having not qualified for the tournament, [Brazil 2014] we are looking to get results in all the games and to start moving back up the rankings” Ogilvie said.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan is also intent on re-building his sides’ image after failing to even really compete for a place at next year’s World Cup.
“When you play in this game and you win you feel happy for everyone who is there, and who want you to win, the supporters, your family, and I think that is the most important thing,” Strachan said.
“I did win against England and you think, ‘Brilliant! My mum and dad are watching the game, my brothers and sisters, the supporters are there watching the game’, so you do it for other people rather than yourself. But if, as a group, we could get something from the game that would be great,” he added.
The match is more than a mere kick about for Strachan, who feels the paying-fans deserve to see a competitive game, even if that means upsetting club managers by keeping players on for longer than a half – commonly the agreed playing time for a mid-season international friendly.
“The fans want us to win – they’re paying £65 or whatever for a ticket. They want to see players playing, and in a competitive style,” the Scotland manager continued. “So I don’t see it as a friendly. I see it as a competitive game that we want to win. I can’t promise any manager I’ll take his player off after 45 minutes.”
And while Scotland is in search of pride through beating its oldest rival, England manager Roy Hodgson may be quietly happy that there is little at stake tomorrow night.
Hodgson may be without a number of his preferred strikers. Andy Carroll is out of action until September, Jermain Defoe is unlikely to play because of a hamstring niggle; while Daniel Sturridge only returned to training with Liverpool on Monday after his pre-season was blighted by an ankle problem.
While Wayne Rooney missed Sunday’s Community Shield through an injury, he was reportedly early to training on Monday morning, and is expected to overcome a recent shoulder injury and make his 84th appearance for the national team.
The England manager may hand a debut cap to 31 year-old Southampton forward Rickie Lambert. The Saints striker scored 15 goals in the Premier League last season to earn a call-up to the national squad.
The England manager will be able to utilise what is arguably his best midfield options, with captain Steven Gerrard fit, as well as Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, who is likely to be named in the squad after enjoying an injury-free pre-season with Arsenal.
Manchester United’s Wilfried Zaha is poised for another England cap. The winger was very impressive in the pre-season tour of the Far East and Australia with his new club.
Scotland has veteran striker Kenny Miller fit and available, but will be without the talismanic Steven Fletcher, who continues to struggle with his fitness.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon will hope for just limited appearances from Scott Brown, James Forrest and Charlie Mulgrew, as the trio will be required in Celtic’s away trips to Aberdeen and Shakhter Karagandy in the week after the Wembley friendly.
Although England is far superior to Scotland in the FIFA rankings, these age-old rivalries always have the potential for a cracking contest – such as the recent England – Republic of Ireland friendly.
The sight the Tartan Army descending upon London – rumours suggest some 20,000 Scottish fans are travelling south – should make for a fantastic contest, and may heat up more than expected.
Clashes between England and Scotland in any sport are always intriguing, and tomorrow night should not disappoint.