As he sat in central Skopje yesterday, in the team hotel on the banks of the River Vardar, the Scotland manager proved that he was as good as his word. He reeled off results and performances from the Euro '84 qualifying campaign against Belgium, Switzerland and East Germany. The significance? It was the last time Scotland finished bottom of a qualifying group, an embarrassment with which they are flirting again 29 years later.
Strachan played in five of those six qualifiers in 1984 and what illustrious company he had in blue shirts. Kenny Dalglish was around then too, and Willie Miller, Steve Archibald, Charlie Nicholas, Alex McLeish, Alan Hansen, Jim Leighton and John Wark. The high-powered roll call also included Richard Gough, Paul Sturrock, John Robertson and Paul McStay. Reading that list provokes two responses. Firstly, how on earth did they fail? Secondly, what would Scotland give to have even a couple of them now?
Craig Levein and Strachan have each had four games in charge of this World Cup 2014 campaign: two draws, two defeats for the old manager, one win, three defeats for the new one. Only five points from a possible 24 amounts to a pitiful return from a group in which, remember, Levein had initially said every fixture was winnable. Macedonia tonight and Croatia at Hampden next month are the two remaining matches which offer Scotland a chance to haul themselves off the bottom.
"I wouldn't like it, I just wouldn't like it," said Strachan when asked about finishing last in Group A. "It scares me to think that it would happen."
Scotland's failures can be measured by various means but the underachievement so far is confirmed by the fact they were fourth seeds when the draw was made and now sit sixth, while Macedonia were the sixth seeds who are currently fourth. They belied those positions when playing well at Hampden in a 1-1 draw last September. They took an early lead through Nikolche Noveski and although Kenny Miller equalised it needed some excellent Allan McGregor saves to deny Macedonia another. They picked up their other Group A points with home wins against Serbia and Wales. Put bluntly, the form guide suggests they will beat Scotland tonight.
Another difficult night is in store for Strachan. His team was forgiven quickly for losing to Belgium, and defeat at Wembley last month could also be processed easily enough given England's superior resources. The mood would not be so generous if Macedonia win tonight.
If there is still a sense of momentum after Croatia, England and Belgium then it is as fragile as gossamer after two defeats and five goals conceded in the latter pair of fixtures. The talk of improvement and progress, of understandings and connections forming around the squad, of passing triangles beginning to form around the pitch, is all very well. But it has to yield tangible results.
"We get fed up talking about progress and there comes a point when you have to start winning games and looking like you're going to win games," said Strachan. "Whatever club I've joined, it might have been a bit rocky to start with. That happens. You deal with that. As long as you get there in the end.
"There's a point where you're looking to keep progressing. We passed that at Coventry City [when he was manager] where we ended up doing very well and getting called entertainers. We passed that at Southampton where we did this and we did that. Celtic was horrendous [at first], but you just plug your way through it. That was because we had good players round about us. You've got to take a few knocks.
"Over the past three games we went progress ... progress ... and it kind of stalled a bit in the Belgium game. But if you look at it you realise he did well, and he did well, and he did well, and you are up to five or six players who did really well on the night. I've played in games and been beaten and I've walked off and gone 'well that's as good as I can do and we should have won that'. And I've been in a game when we've won but been rotten, and that's kind of embarrassing. That's not what you want."
Scotland must continue to try to build without some of their foundations. Darren Fletcher, Steven Fletcher and James Morrison, all essential players for Strachan's long-term vision, are absent. Robert Snodgrass, Charlie Adam and Jordan Rhodes are out too. Leigh Griffiths saw too little of the ball on Friday and should not be judged harshly, but another striker may be tried tonight. Ross McCormack and Jamie Mackie are contenders, although it was Steven Naismith who impressed the manager in a morning training session yesterday. "He understood everything. He understands what midfield players want from a striker, and that can be important."
Ikechi Anya came on after almost an hour for his debut on Friday and is a candidate to replace the suspended Snodgrass on the right. "I would like us to have got more of the ball to him," said Strachan. "We should have trusted him more because even if someone is tight to him he's the sort of player who will win free-kicks and we can play from there."
An afternoon kick-off meant the blazing sunshine was deeply uncomfortable when Scotland last played, and lost, in Skopje five years ago this week. The play begins at 8.30pm local time tonight (7.30pm UK time), when the temperature will no longer be a factor. If Scotland lose again, though, there will be plenty of heat coming there way.