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Auld Enemies are not worlds apart: Craig Brown reckons Scotland aren’t too far behind England

Scotland's Leigh Griffiths after the draw with England at Hampden (SNS Group / Roddy Scott)
Scotland's Leigh Griffiths after the draw with England at Hampden (SNS Group / Roddy Scott)

CRAIG BROWN reckons, but for a couple of mad seconds, the conversation about Scotland never reaching major Finals these days wouldn’t be happening.

And he believes that our years in the wilderness will soon come to an end.

Brown led the Dark Blues to the 1998 World Cup Finals in France, their last appearance in a Finals.

Fast forward 19 years to Saturday, June 10, 2017.

As regulation time ran out in the World Cup qualifier against England, Hampden Park was a scene of wild celebration.

Two stunning free-kicks from Leigh Griffiths had the Dark Blues 2-1 up on a side which, 13 months later, would be in the World Cup’s final four.

A misplaced ball from Stuart Armstrong and a piece of Harry Kane opportunism later, and the Tartan Army were left mourning the loss of what would have been an historic victory.

Brown continues to look back on that day with huge regret.

“I think England were the luckiest team alive that day,” he said.

“We had them beaten through two amazing goals from Leigh, only to let them scrape a draw with a fluke of a goal.

“If that hadn’t happened, then I think we would have made it through, I really do, because it would have changed the entire complexion of the table.

“The win would have given us so much momentum. That would either have taken us to top spot in the table, or got us through the play-offs.

“We weren’t the strongest we have ever been, but there was plenty of talent there.

“For starters, I would take our full-backs – Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson – ahead of Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier.

“People have been raving about England during the World Cup. But if you ask me, I would say they only did okay.

“They beat Tunisia and Panama. Well, with respect, you would have to expect that.

“They lost to Belgium, in a game that admittedly didn’t matter, and only got past Sweden on penalty-kicks.

“Colombia? Fair enough. But then I wasn’t too impressed with the performance against Croatia in the semi-finals.

“They started well enough, but were poor in the second half, giving the opposition too much time and space.

“So when you look at the bigger picture, I really don’t think England are that far ahead of Scotland.

“As good as Croatia have been, too, don’t forget they came into this tournament via the play-offs, having finished behind Iceland in the qualifiers.

“I say all this as someone who wished England well in the World Cup.

“I am a patriotic Scot, so of course I want us to hammer them whenever we meet.

“However, it would be churlish not to want them to do well against countries from other parts of the world.

“We are near neighbours, after all, and our club games have always been entwined.

“Just think of all the great achievements Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law had south of the border.

“You look at them, and why wouldn’t you want England’s national team to do okay?

“And while I didn’t think they played as well as some people seem to think they did, off the park they have been very impressive, with Gareth Southgate being extremely thoughtful and reasonable and his players showing no signs of arrogance at all.”

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Next up for both Scotland and England is Euro 2020, and Brown is bullish about the chances of Alex McLeish’s side succeeding where their predecessors have failed.

“I believe we are going to do it this time, I really do,” he said. “There are some excellent young players who are really starting to come into their own.

“I am talking about the likes of Robertson, Tierney, Callum McGregor, Scott McKenna and John McGinn.

“You throw in others such as Stuart Armstrong, Kenny McLean and James Forrest, and that is a great crop.

“I know from being Scotland manager that you need to have the right quality of players.

“These things go in cycles, and we were blessed.

“We had Kevin Gallacher and Colin Hendry – English Premier League winners with Blackburn Rovers – Paul Lambert, a Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund, and Gary McAllister, a terrific talent.

“Gordon Strachan didn’t get as strong a pool to work with, but Alex McLeish will be getting a group approaching as good as I had.

“He is very much the man to take advantage!”