Scotland v Qatar: A tune-up for the main event in Dublin

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan passes on a few thoughts at a training session
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan views the Qatar match as an extension to his training camp

It is a friendly match that has brought political complications for the Scottish Football Association, but the national team's game against Qatar at Easter Road is still a football match to be negotiated by the team.

Scotland arranged the fixture as a warm-up to their European Championships qualifier in Dublin against the Republic of Ireland next Saturday. So what does manager Gordon Strachan want to take from the game against Qatar?

No complications

The blunt truth is that the national coach wants to come through the tie without any injuries. He is treating it as an extension of the training camp this week, which included a double session the day before the game.

Players need their fitness and reactions sharpened up, with the some of English Championship contingent not having played since 2 May.

Qatar will not provide the same level of competitive tension or intensity as the Republic's warm-up friendly against England, so this is a tune-up, rather than something more challenging.

And it was an indication of Strachan's state of mind that he said he hoped the level of tackling would not see players "clattering" into each other.

Clarity of thought

Strachan said that he already has the core of his team in his mind for the game against the Republic. Continuity and stability have been key themes of his stewardship of Scotland, so there were unlikely to be radical changes to the side.

Injury permitting, David Marshall, Alan Hutton, Russell Martin, Ikechi Anya, Scott Brown, Shaun Maloney, Steven Naismith and Steven Fletcher would be expected to start in Dublin.

That only leaves centre-back, left-back and central midfield positions to be determined.

Charlie Mulgrew could fill any of those three roles, and Strachan will hope that the training sessions and a run our against Qatar will ensure that the versatile Celtic man will be match fit after missing much of the final months of the season through injury.

There are other potential decisions to make, such as Darren Fletcher or James Morrison in midfield, Steven Whittaker, Andy Robertson or Craig Forsyth at left-back, and Gordon Greer or Christophe Berra at centre-back.

Run outs against Qatar for some of these players will enable Strachan to make final selection decisions, although he is likely to already have strong ideas about how he will approach the game against the Republic.

Charlie Adam training with the Scotland squad
Charlie Adam last played for Scotland in March 2014

What to do with Charlie Adam

The Stoke midfielder had been a frustrated observer of the national team, but earned his recall by playing his way back to prominence at club level.

A stunning strike against Chelsea helped to return Adam to a high profile in the game, but Strachan will have been more impressed by his doggedness and application.

The conundrum is where to play Adam. Craig Levein tended to deploy him in a deep-lying midfield role, likening him to an American Football quarter-back and urging him to use his long-range passing to prompt attacks.

Strachan normally prefers industry and dynamism in his two deeper central midfielders - often a partnership between Brown and Mulgrew/Fletcher/Morrison. Adam also tends to play a more advanced central midfield position for Stoke, with greater licence to attack and be creative.

Mark Hughes demands effort and commitment from his Stoke players, though, so Adam can fit into Strachan's style, which demands closing down and positional discipline when the opposition have the ball but greater freedom on the ball.

Yet Maloney, Naismith and Anya have tended to be consistent and effective in the three attacking midfield roles behind a lone striker.

Adam could be deployed off the bench, but he approaches the Republic game as one of the most in-form, confident and self-assured players in the squad. His form and ability will also play on the minds of the Irish squad, many of whom he will have faced this season.

Momentum and spirit

Strachan has spoken about fostering a club attitude amongst the international squad. That has helped bring unity of purpose to the players, and there has been a growing optimism about the team's qualification hopes.

The game in Dublin is pivotal, since a victory would leave Scotland in a strong position and certainly with advantage over the Republic, who they defeated 1-0 at Celtic Park last year.

The game against Qatar is an opportunity to build on that spirit and to generate momentum and confidence.

The game in Dublin will be tense and fiercely competitive, so Scotland will want to be at their most composed.

Defeating Qatar, with a measured, poised display, would be the ideal for Strachan. The game has presented several troubling issues for the SFA, but it does not need to for the team. There are other priorities at play.

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