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Strachan fluent in German success

GERMANY features prominently in Scotland's future, both in the short and longer term.

 Gordon Strachan and Mark Wotte welcome a new intake of pupils to the SFA's Performance Schools. Picture: SNS
Gordon Strachan and Mark Wotte welcome a new intake of pupils to the SFA's Performance Schools. Picture: SNS

Most pressingly for manager Gordon Strachan is the match against the newly-crowned world champions in Dortmund on September 7. It is the first stage of a journey that many hope will end at the European Championship finals in France in two years' time but the start of qualifying could hardly be trickier. Even without the recently-retired Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose, Germany still boast a squad the envy of almost every other football nation.

If there is an argument to be made that they do not have a talismanic figure in the way that Brazil have Neymar, Argentina Lionel Messi and Portugal Cristiano Ronaldo, it is quashed easily by pointing out that they have no need for such a leading light when the ensemble as a whole is so strong.

Take Thomas Mueller out the team? Fine, there's still Mesut Oezil, Mario Goetze, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marco Reus, Sami Khedira, Manuel Neuer and the rest standing in the way. There is little point focusing on trying to stop one individual when so many are capable of wreaking havoc.

Strachan discovered that for himself over the summer. First from the ITV makeshift studio on Copacabana Beach and then from the comfort from his sofa at home, the Scotland manager watched Germany take on the world and beat them one by one. In an undefeated run to the World Cup final during which they scored 18 goals and conceded only four, there is little question which match stood out: the 7-1 thrashing of hosts Brazil in the semi-final. It was surreal enough for Strachan to wonder if his television was on the blink.

"I turned to my wife and said: 'I think we are on the Fantasy Channel here. You'll need to turn it over to something else. We've tuned into something that's not really happening. There's something wrong with the telly. I was saying to myself: 'This is not right, this is not right.' I was looking at the Brazilian players - and I've seen this before elsewhere - and there were about three or four of them in shock. And I mean literally in shock.

"When I took over this job I said to people that the Germans were the team I admired the most. People were scratching their heads and saying 'what about Spain or Holland?' But I said Germany because I like what they do. I like how they take a group of great players and turn them into a great team. They may have nothing like the Neymars or the Messis but every one of them is a top player who can handle the ball and pass beautifully. Schweinstiger, Oezil, Khedira; they are just magnificent players.

"The way they move the ball about, their strength of character, their physical strength is just wonderful and so is their touch. They do the simple things brilliantly. Great players do that. They've got players who can score goals and use their ability when needed solely for the team. Everything is about the team with Germany. I'm such a great admirer of them and now two years after saying that it's come to fruition that they are world champions."

Such has been the build-up that it would be understandable if the Scottish team was to walk out the tunnel at the Westfalenstadion next month with their knees knocking. Strachan, though, felt there would be no prospect of his players being overawed.

"I'm starting to get a bit excited now about the game, and also a bit nervous," he added. "It's good to have a bit of both. We will just continue along the same lines. There will be nothing drastic because we think our system is set up to make it hard for teams to score against us - and we're trying to add to it to make it easier for us to score goals as well.

"We won't be overawed. We will be at the point when we play Germany that we will be looking forward to it. The game will only be determined by how we play. It's not the occasion, not the number of people there. It's entirely up to us how the game goes."

Strachan was at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh yesterday to welcome the new intake of pupils to the Scottish Football Association's seven Regional Performance Schools. Joining him there like a proud parent - well, one with about 300 weans - was Mark Wotte, the SFA's performance director. As painful as it must be for any Dutchman to admit, it is to the German model - introduced after their poor performance at Euro 2000 - that Scotland are now looking as they work to bring through what they hope will be a successful class of 2020.

"Germany recognised they had a problem and so have we," said Wotte. "They started a strategy and it paid off. We're on that path as well. Germany can probably tap into 10 times as many players as us and there's money in German club football so there's more resources. Germany has recognised it and developed it and they're an example for us when it comes from the DFB [German FA] and Bundesliga working together.

"They are a standout for us. They are the example in Europe of how to change the future of your football. It's encouraging that a country with a strategy we are trying to implement is winning the World Cup."

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