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Scotland hoping for Sir Alex Ferguson inspiration against Israel

Scotland hoping for Sir Alex Ferguson inspiration against Israel
Scotland hoping for Sir Alex Ferguson inspiration against Israel


Scotland’s past meets Scotland’s future on Saturday evening. And any inspiration the new generation can draw from the feats of the old would do no harm in the quest to secure a World Cup play-off place.

Three years since his near fatal brain haemorrhage, Sir Alex Ferguson returns to the arena where his playing career began at Queen’s Park.

Part of a youthful Scotland XI who toured Asia and Oceania in 1967, there were no caps awarded for games against Israel, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand’s Under 23 team, a Vancouver XI or Canada back in the day. Tonight the SFA will put that right.

Scotland will hope that Sir Alex Ferguson's inspiration can help them to victory over Israel

Scotland will hope that Sir Alex Ferguson’s inspiration can help them to victory over Israel

After six games in three years, there isn’t much Scotland can do to surprise Israel these days. Handing a legendary manager a cap on the pitch for a game he played in Tel Aviv 54 years ago just might do the trick.

If that doesn’t work there is always Nathan Patterson and Billy Gilmour. When Scotland drew 1-1 on an unsatisfying night in Israel in March, neither player had a cap to their name. Two of the most exciting talents to emerge in some time, both will start at Hampden on Saturday night.

No stranger to throwing in the kids, Ferguson will watch from the South Stand, nodding his approval.

‘It will be nice for the Scottish public to see Sir Alex,’ said boss Steve Clarke. ‘Obviously he had time as a World Cup manager, in sad circumstances (after the death of Jock Stein), when he took the team to Mexico in 1986.

The Scots' new generation are hoping to break the deadlock with their Israeli rivals

The Scots’ new generation are hoping to break the deadlock with their Israeli rivals

‘I have bumped into him already a couple of times this season. It is always nice to catch up and hear his thoughts.

‘He is very, very supportive of the country,’ Clarke added. ‘I always have nice, positive conversations with Sir Alex.

‘It’s great that he will be there to get that cap from such a long time ago. I’m sure he will get a fantastic ovation and it is richly deserved.’

Even Ferguson found the task of leading Scotland to victory against Israel a bind.

In January 1986, three months after Stein’s untimely death, the former Aberdeen boss took charge of the national team for a friendly in Tel Aviv. A warm-up game for the World Cup finals in Mexico, a Paul McStay goal earned the Scots a narrow 1-0 win. And the two teams have been cancelling each other out ever since.

Since November 2018, 20 per cent of the fixtures played by Scotland’s national team have come against Israel. Only one — a 3-2 win under Alex McLeish — has ended in outright victory. The other triumph came via a penalty shootout in a Euro 2020 qualification play-off semi-final.

Victory for Steve Clarke's side will give them a huge boost in clinching a play-off place

Victory for Steve Clarke’s side will give them a huge boost in clinching a play-off place

To call Gilmour and Patterson secret weapons would be pushing it. Yet neither has played against Israel before and Clarke will start both tonight in the quest to bring some freshness to a fixture growing stale.

‘Israel will have watched Nathan and Billy play for us,’ said Clarke. ‘I’m sure they do their homework as diligently as we do ours.

‘But it’s nice because I feel we keep evolving. You talk about bringing in the younger ones and that just helps to keep the squad evolving.

‘The core of the squad and the younger ones are picking up more and more caps and we are just growing as a team.

‘If we want to keep growing, then a positive result against Israel will help us.’

Remarkably, Scotland have only finished second in a World Cup qualifying group twice before.

Sir Alex Ferguson returns to Hampden Park to pick up a Scotland cap he won back in 1967

Sir Alex Ferguson returns to Hampden Park to pick up a Scotland cap he won back in 1967 

Clarke has a full squad to pick from as the Scots look to take a step closer to Qatar 2022

Clarke has a full squad to pick from as the Scots look to take a step closer to Qatar 2022

In 1990 and 1998, a runner-up spot guaranteed qualification for the finals. These days it brings the additional hurdle of a play-off, with runaway group leaders Denmark set to qualify outright.

After the Covid disruption and withdrawals of the last international break, Clarke has a full squad to pick from.

‘We have had a clear week to lead into the game, so it’s nice to give the lads a recovery at the start of the week followed by three good days training on the pitch,’ he said.

‘Both ourselves and Israel have improved in equal measure. They have dangerous forwards, good organisation and we expect another tough game.

‘There is no way you can look at it and say they are not a good team because anybody who has watched them play will know that. And anybody who has watched us will also know we are a good team.

‘A good game between two good teams — and we want the win.’


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