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Strachan: We'll see a different Germany on Sunday

THE plan was for Scotland to watch Germany's midweek friendly on a big screen in the squad hotel.

Gordon Strachan issues instructions to his players at training yesterday. The Scotland manager insisted that not having a friendly match on Wednesday means		      his side will be better prepared for their Germany test on Sunday. Picture: SNS
Gordon Strachan issues instructions to his players at training yesterday. The Scotland manager insisted that not having a friendly match on Wednesday means his side will be better prepared for their Germany test on Sunday. Picture: SNS

A technical glitch meant the management had to take in the game via laptops instead, but no harm was done to Gordon Strachan's preparation for Sunday's opening Euro 2016 qualifying fixture. The Scotland manager didn't need to view the game to see the big picture.

"It was a celebration of football and a friendly," he said of Germany's 4-2 defeat by Argentina. At one stage the supposedly untouchable Germans were 4-0 down.

Strachan watched it with a coach's appreciation of perspective, sensibly declining to interpret what he saw as any evidence of decline. There were valuable little observations to be made, while also acknowledging the fixture's context. "We saw some lovely football but it will be different in a competitive game. They will be a different side. It was interesting to some of their younger players and some of their new players but I think we'll see the older players back on Sunday."

Only four of the Germany team which started the World Cup final also started in midweek. Two more, Phillip Lahm and Miroslav Klose, may have done so had they not retired from international football.

The other five starters from July were either injured or among the substitutes in midweek. Two of them, Mats Hummels and Mesut Oezil, withdrew from the squad yesterday.

Strachan's approach to the Germany game has been to ensure it is not all about Germany. On Sunday evening and again on Monday morning he worked with the players on how Joachim Loew's team operates. The emphasis since then has been on Scotland: what they do well, what needs to be fine-tuned, how to play to their strengths, how to further improve all the little on-field partnerships and units. The Germany game, however captivating it may be, is match one of a 10-game series. "I have said to the players that not everything we are doing is just to play against Germany. It's about repeating what we've done over the last year. A lot of the coaching has been for the campaign that is coming, not just this one game.

"We've had this shape over the past 14 months. I had an idea what I wanted to do when I first came in, then realised that it wouldn't work, so we tried this. We have had additions to the squad that have made it a little bit different.

"We now have Steven Naismith, Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher, which is a good three if you want a target man. They've got movement and bring people into play. That's a bit different.

"We are getting close to a position where everybody in our team can handle the ball. You might think they should all be able to do that anyway, but it doesn't work that way. If you can handle the ball, you can keep it longer and the other team don't have it. So I like that. In the last couple of months we have been working on the movement of the people up front, which is better.

"We don't want to isolate our main striker. Just things like that. It's about having the confidence to play and not to dismiss the ball."

Germany's high-tempo, possession game, zipping the ball around at a pace which can tire opponents into losing possession, makes it imperative that Scotland continue to address an age-old flaw, namely their inability to keep the ball for long.

Strachan is confident there has been an improvement in that aspect of their game during his dozen games in charge, and especially since the nadir of back-to-back defeats to Wales and Serbia in March of last year. "If you'd asked me to play Germany right after the Wales and Serbia games, that wouldn't have been fun. This is a challenge because of what has happened over the last 14 months and the group we have got together means it has become a challenge we can achieve."

Still, some facts about Germany remain sobering. They have scored 28 goals since the beginning of June. In each of their last 10 games they have scored at least once. Strachan wants every one of his men to see plenty of the ball with the exception of the one who may see far too much of it: the goalkeeper.

Allan McGregor and David Marshall have been picked six times each under Strachan and there is nothing between them, with the Hull City man perhaps the favourite to start in Dortmund given he played the last game and has been performing well in the Barclays Premier League. The return of another senior goalkeeper after a lengthy injury, Craig Gordon, has further strengthened the manager's hand. "I'm clearer [on who will play in goal]. I've been clear for a while. But it's a hard one and then you see Craig Gordon come in and you think 'whoa'. You wouldn't know he's been away. I haven't told them who is playing yet. You never know the best moment to tell them. You have to sense when that is for everyone.

"It's not like it has to be at a specific time, but it will be before the team in general is announced, that's for sure. Sometimes the goalie can be picked depending on whether or not you are away or at home, believe it or not.

"It's usually been a choice between two great goalkeepers, thinking back to Andy Goram and Jim Leighton. Look at England as well when they had Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence at the same time. You couldn't remember the third one. We're strong and it's a fantastic bonus having Craig along here."

In rules clearly devised to frustrate and obstruct the Scotland team against the prolific world champions, FIFA will not permit all three to be played at once.

The SFA yesterday announced a sponsorship deal with energy drink company Little Big Shot, which has backed its Regional Performance Schools and the Youth Cup.

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