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The Return of International Football's Original Rivalry

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A Winter's Tale

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This Wednesday the mome of football, Wembley Stadium, will host the first meeting between the English and Scottish national football teams since a Euro 2000 paly-off between the two countries at the Old Wembley on the 17th November 1999 when Scotland won 1-0 but went out 2-1 in the tie thanks to two Paul Scholes goals in Glasgow. England and Scotland represent the two oldest national sides in World football with Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow being the home of the first international football match on the 30th November 1872. The game finished 0-0, the next game in March 1873 saw England win on home soil at the Oval but the Scots would dominate the next 11 fixtures with 9 victories including a 7-2 win at Hampdem Park in 1878.

Despite considerable differences in size and population between the two countries, both Scotland and England have contributed to World football. With England inventing the rules of the game, Scotland invented the passing game, free-kicks and set up the English league aswell as bringing football to South America. At club level, England have 5 clubs who have won the European Cup, whilst Scotland had the first club in Britain to win the European Cup and the first club in Europe to win the treble. There is a very big difference between the two leagues with England's Premier League claiming to be the best in the world, whilst Scotland's top flight has been dominated by the Old Firm but uniquely Dundee joins Glasgow for being one of three British cities to have produced two European Cup semi-finalists. The Celtic side of 1967, Manchester United in 1968, 1999 and Liverpool in the late 70s and 80s are considered to be some of the best club sides the game has seen whilst Scotland has produced some of the top managers including Sir Alex Ferguson. England have always had top players and Charlton and Bobby Moore are just two of many English players who are considered greats in the game. During Scotland's heyday in the 1960s-1980s Dennis Law, Jim Baxter, Kenny Dalglish and Jimmy Johnstone also make up some of the finest players to have graced the sport. Hampden Park and Wembley Stadium made for great sporting arenas, the former holds the record for the highest international, club and European attendances. England also have a FIFA World Cup victory their name with a 4-2 victory against West Germany in 1966. Scotland have qualified for 8 World Cups but the side in 1974 and 1978 was the only British representative and we were 8/1 to win it.

Since the 1870s, the two nations have meet 110 times. England have been victorious 45 times, Scotland 41 times and there have been 24 draws. During the long history of this great footballing rivalry, there have been some iconic matches and moments. For England, Paul Gascoigne's goal at the 1996 European Championships in a 2-0 victory was fine moment as he flicked the ball over the head of Colin Hendry. [url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8OlfG1dF3w"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8OlfG1dF3w[/url]

A great day for England was the 15th April 1961 with a 9-3 victory. Jimmy Greaves scoring a hat-trick. [url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFqrBatm8No"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFqrBatm8No[/url]

Scotland have also had their moments with the 'Wembley Wizards' of 1928 in a 5-1 away victory. But one of Scotland's greatest footballing moments came in 1967. Despite Scotland having a team made up of 4 of the Lisbon Lions and the likes of Jim Baxter and Dennis Law (who was the first British player to win the Ballon d'or) they were underdogs against the World Champions who were undefeated in 19 games. Scotland won in spectacular fashion in a 3-2 victory, but most memorably was how Scotland toyed with the World Champions including keepie-uppy. [url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqhNqNtCinM"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqhNqNtCinM[/url]

Another memorable moment was the Tartan Army pitch invasion at Wembley after a 2-1 win for the Scots. [url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGLrfSn4dvc"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGLrfSn4dvc[/url]

The heyday for this great rivalry was during the annual British home championships and it was undoubtably one of the great fixtures in world football. Nowadays, one would imagine that the rivalry may not stand out as well as it used to but there is still an element of footballing history and tradition to this fixture.

The last time the two sides met England had the likes of Alan Shearer, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, David Beckham and David Seamen. Scotland had been at the World Cup in France the previous year and had only missed one World Cup since the 1970s. So how have things changed since then? During the 2000s, England have progressed no further than the last 16 in major international tournament. England achieved the highest ranking last year at #3 in the World. Some great players such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have played for the country but have failed to go far in a major Championship. The English Premier League has grown with more foreign players and fewer British players in the top teams. In the latter half of the 2000s, the English sides dominated the UEFA Champions League. There have been some negatives, last season Arsenal and Manchester United performed the best out of the English teams in the Champions League, finishing in the Last 16 along with Celtic. The national team have had some low points most notably failing to qualify for Euro 2008. It's been up and down for Scottish football but generally a downward trend. Scotland has failed to qualify for any tournament despite coming so close in a group wit the two 2006 World Cup Finalists aswell as quarter-finalists Ukraine. The best moment was reching #13 in the World rankings in 2007 and there have been some great results againt the Netherlands, France, Italy and Croatia. Some of the worst moments have been fall-outs in the squad during the 2010 World Cup qualification, a low ranking at #88 in 2005. The quality of team and players has degraded in comparison to the past and the league has also gone downwards in quality. Some of the club highlights have been Rangers and Celtic reaching the UEFA Cup Final and last 16 of Champions League.

Uniquely, none of the players in the England and Scotland squad have played in an England-Scotland match and that includes the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Miller. It will also be the first time this fixture has been played at the New Wembley. The differences in quality has increased between the two sides and this match will be played almost exactly a year ahead of the Scottish referendum on independence. So this will certainly be an England v Scotland game of a different kind. The youngest player in the England squad is Manchester United's Wilfired Zaha who would have been 7 years old and Scotland's James Forrest would have been 8 years old during the last encounter in 1999.

Both squads are not full strength with Scotland missing captain and Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher. Under Roy Hodgson, England have drawn their last three matches against Brazil, Ireland and Montenegro. Gordon Strachan was appointed after the sacking of Craig Levein in November. He won his first game 1-0 against Estonia, lost back to back qualifiers against Wales and Serbia. But perhaps the turning point came in June when Scotland was without their first, second, third and fourth captain and travelled to face the 4th best team inthe World Croatia in a World Cup qualifier in Zagreb. Scotland played well, and won 1-0 to join England and become only the second team ever to beat Croatia on their own turf. A victory against England would be the perfect way to buld on the confidence, but a heavy defeat would be very damaging.

It's unclear how England will approch the game. Roy Hodgson will take this very seriously ahead of very important WC qualifiers. There is a mixture of experience (Lampard), top class talent (Rooney), bright young talent aswell as the inclusion of Lambert. With the Premier League season starting later this month, some of the top players may not take part for the full 90 minutes.

Gordon Strachan has insisted that Scotland will attack. We have a decent goalkeeper in Alan McGregor but our defence is our weakest area and the players are probably not good enough for International football despite experience in the Premier League, Championship, La Liga and Champions League. Our strongest area is midfield - particulary in the attacking areas - and this is the biggest selection dilema for Strachan. Celtic's Scott Brown will probably sit in midfield. He is a tough character and has experience in Champions League and has had some first team action already this season. I think we'll have 5 players in midfield with two holding midfielders - WBA's James Morrison and Graham Dorrans, AV's Bannan, Wigan's McArthur and Stoke's Adam could join Brown in the centre. James Morrison probably should play in the centre but Strachan will have McArthur in mind as he played very well in Zagreb and won the FA Cup with Wigan on that pitch. There are options for the attacking midfielders: Shaun Maloney (Wigan) and Robert Snodgrass (Norwich) were the best players for their clubs in the Premier League last season. Steven Naismith was a striker when he was at Rangers, but now plays behind the main striker for Scotland. But I wouldn't play him because of a lack of first team action - despite his experience in the CL and PL. The other two main options are Scottish Premiership wingers Gary Mackay-Steven (Dundee United) and James Forrest (Celtic). Both are exciting, talented young prospects. Mackay-Steven has very tidy footwork but has never played for Scotland or in Europe so I wouldn't start him. I would certainly start James Forrest who is a very fast winger. He has started all of Celtic's league and European games this season and he could give Ashley Cole a problem with his pace. He's also has experience in the Champions League and in 2012 was listed by FIFA as one of the 12 up and coming footballers.

A victory for Scotland would be unexpected and it would really build on the confidence from beating Croatia. I suspect that it'll be a game that could go either way but if England really turn it on then it could be a comfortable victory for the home-side. The Tartan Army should be down south in their numbers and that could make a difference, although I'd be very surprised if we see another pitch-invasion this time. It'll be interesting to see how the day turns out. Should there be a return to more regular fixtures between the two-sides or does England have more important fixtures to play? Have the two nation's missed out on the rivalry in the past 14 years? Does the rivalry still have the same meaning for the fans?
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