- England v Scotland, International Friendly, Wembley
England v Scotland: A rivalry renewed
International football began officially 151 years ago.
This was a time of gentleman amateurs. There was a roll of tape between the posts as crossbars had not been conceived. Fog delayed the kick-off. Rather disappointingly, the match staged at Glasgow's Hamilton Park on November 30, 1872, finished goalless.
These days, players are more often accused of ungentlemanly conduct. There will be goal-line technology in use on the crossbars at Wembley too.
The heat of the rivalry between Scotland and the 'Auld Enemy' has cooled through disuse. England last met Scotland in 1999, in a qualifying play-off for Euro 2000. That second leg at Wembley was a very lucky escape for the English. As Kevin Keegan, England's manager that November night, said: "I think we were the luckiest team in the world to get through after what happened at Wembley."
Scotland's 1-0 win was not enough to overturn the two Paul Scholes goals they had conceded at Hampden Park. They have not qualified for a major finals since. Revenge will have to be taken in a 'friendly' context. Memories of the old days of the Home Internationals abound. Scotland last won at England's home in 1981 with a 1-0 win secured through a penalty from Nottingham Forest's John Robertson. The images of 1977's 2-1 victory and a Tartan pitch invasion that removed Wembley of its goalposts are indelible.
The low-key scheduling of the match just days before the English top-division's season means this fixture might not be as hard-fought as its previous 110 renewals, but a piece of ancient history is being revived. It feels good to have the fixture back at long last.
What is at stake?
The reason for the English FA setting up the fixture is the celebration of its 150th season. It would have been rude not to, and it would be especially embarrassing to lose, too. Playing the match three days before the Premier League begins hardly helps to add competitiveness or allow Roy Hodgson to go full bore. He will have had to make promises to various managers. Instead, the match will serve as an executive training exercise ahead of sterner tests against Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland. There might be answers to the latest Wayne Rooney riddle, and hopefully a happy return for Jack Wilshere, but the oldest rivalry of all is taking a back seat to other concerns. That could leave England vulnerable.
The World Cup is gone as a target for Scotland, who are now playing for co-efficient points to ease their seeding for further qualification campaigns. That means this match is not a rehearsal for anything. For a Scot as proud as Gordon Strachan, who has made England his home since 1984 for all but his spell as Celtic manager, victory would be one of the sweetest successes of his managerial career. The signs of improvement under Strachan would be franked, and the Tartan Army could enjoy itself. Their Irish counterparts drowned out the English on their May visit to Wembley; perhaps Scotland can go one better than their Celtic cousins' draw.
Style and tactics
This is Roy Hodgson we are talking about here. Do not, repeat not, expect too much variation. Perhaps the greatest intrigue lies in where Rooney will play, and with whom. Hodgson may opt for a three-pronged attack in which Danny Welbeck's industry is employed on the left-hand side, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right in the expected absence of Theo Walcott. A midfield three seems likely, with Michael Carrick at the base, and Steven Gerrard and Wilshere given licence to roam. The link between those three should make England a far, far better team.
Scotland beat Croatia in June using a pressing game that gave their opponents little time on the ball before Robert Snodgrass scored a breakaway goal. Strachan, rarely satisfied, still felt his team were wasteful in possession, and has promised that his team will be more attacking at Wembley. It would still be no surprise if a deep-lying 4-5-1 formation were employed, as strikers are no longer a rich resource for Scotland. The likes of Shaun Maloney and Snodgrass will join the frontman, expected to be Leigh Griffiths, when opportunities to attack appear.
Players to watch
Should Wayne Rooney start, and he seems rather keen to point out he is fit to do so, then the cameras will be trained on him, and the reporters' notebooks jotting down his every movement. That is a pity since it may overshadow Jack Wilshere's return. Having been so exciting against Brazil, injury kept him from further participation last season. And the fairytale of Rickie Lambert can be written too. It was 12 years ago that he was working 9-5 screwing tops on beetroot jars, before training with Macclesfield Town in the evenings. Every lower-division player should wish him well.
For Scotland, the emphasis will be on a collective effort in a team without real stars. Wigan's James McArthur was the embodiment of their success against Croatia: unspectacular, hard-working and gritty. Club colleague Shaun Maloney's international role is less creative than under Roberto Martinez but no less vital for his country, while Norwich City's Robert Snodgrass is a player of proven Premier League ability. Charlie Adam is desperate to get one over his old Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard.
What will happen?
It seems almost inevitable that this game will turn into a British-style pitched battle. This is no fixture to expect tiki-taka. England will try to develop a passing game, and Scotland will try to stop it, and then hit on the break. What can also be expected is the full voice of the visiting fans, and hopefully that yields a reaction from the often too-quiet home supporters. And perhaps most of all, while we may crave this to be a fierce rivalry once more, it is to be hoped that there is good behaviour both on and off the pitch.
Who will win?
It would be little surprise if this was a draw. Satisfactory for Scotland, and face-saving for England. If Scotland win then the English will hear about it for years - and rightly so.
ESPN prediction: England 2-2 Scotland