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Stewart Regan: Scotland could have held their own at the World Cup

ONE of the best seats in the house at the opening match of Brazil's first World Cup in six decades, a pulsating contest which surged from end-to-end in front of a sell-out crowd and no need to square up the bill with money from your own pocket.

Stewart Regan, left, is content with the existing criteria to be an SFA office-bearer. Picture: SNS
Stewart Regan, left, is content with the existing criteria to be an SFA office-bearer. Picture: SNS

Could there really be a better way to begin the summer?

Stewart Regan, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, admits that his first taste of football's most glamorous tournament - the curtain-raiser between the host side and Croatia - is something that will live with him forever. However, there were just two things missing from an otherwise enriching evening: a liberal splash of tartan on the terraces and a team in dark blue out on the field.

Regan watched the Croats take an early lead against Brazil in Sao Paulo through an own goal from Marcelo and could not help thinking of what might have been, acutely aware of the fact Scotland had beaten Croatia both home and away during the qualifying campaign.

He glanced towards their small section of jubilant supporters and conjured up an image of the unbridled mayhem that would have broken out in all corners of the stadium had Gordon Strachan's team been in a similar position in front of their well-travelled army of followers.

Since returning home, Regan has continued to monitor the tournament and consistently sees sides which he believes Strachan's squad would be more than capable of competing with. Regan is convinced Scotland, re-energised under the former Celtic manager and backing up their confidence with results, are on the brink of reaching their first major finals since France 98 and he has seen little in Brazil to dissuade him from that view.

"It was my first time at a World Cup and it was fantastic to be there," said the SFA chief executive. "I was there for the FIFA Congress, the opening ceremony and the first match between Brazil and Croatia. I sat there watching a team we had beaten home and away play in that first match in front of 62,000. It made you think: 'If only . . .'

"We could have been watching Scotland play Brazil and that would have been phenomenal. When Croatia scored to go 1-0 up, there was a little pocket of fans up in the gods that started cheering. I just started thinking about what the Tartan Army would have done had they been there. There would certainly have been a hell of a lot more of them in the Arena Sao Paulo.

"There are a lot of teams there that Scotland could hold their own against. We are within a whisper of getting there now.

"We have either beaten or done very well against a number of teams in the World Cup. We should have beaten Nigeria, for example, but for a late goal. That said, there are no freebies in qualification tournaments. Our job is to get the right team playing the right type of football."

The progress made under Strachan merited a mention at yesterday's SFA agm at Heriot Watt University, the site of the future National Performance Centre For Sport, but Regan was more absorbed in the nuts and bolts of his day job.

One resolution put forward by Mike Mulraney, the Alloa Athletic chairman, to reduce the amount of time spent within the sport before becoming eligible for the role of SFA president or vice-president was voted down by members. At the moment, candidates must have four years of service within the SFA or another recognised footballing body on their record. Mulraney wanted to crack the system open by bringing that down to 12 months.

Regan, however, insists yesterday's outcome should not be read as an expression of self-preservation by some kind of blazer-clad Old Boys' Club. "The members decided they would prefer people to have more of an apprenticeship within the game and a greater understanding of what it means to be inside it," he said.

"I am not sure it supports the old brigade. It is not a job for life. Presidents, for example, can only serve for four years."

Resolutions over the enforcement of club licensing and the introduction of an extra member from the Professional Game Board to the SFA executive board were passed, but one plan to block clubs not in possession of a full licence from competing in the William Hill Scottish Cup was thrown out. "The SFA position was that we would have liked to have seen a couple of wildcard entries, possibly the winner of the Scottish Amateur Cup and the Junior Cup," said Regan.

The SFA main board will discuss a request to extend their current two-year agreement with the SPFL to provide parachute payments for relegated clubs on July 3 and Regan did issue a cautionary note on the finances of the game in Scotland. "It is going to take a number of years to restore the game to something like the health it once had," he said.

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