Glasgow, By Tom Williams (AFP)
Each heartened by positive results in Euro 2016 qualifying, England and Scotland will renew their 142-year-old rivalry in a hotly anticipated end-of-year friendly at Glasgow’s Celtic Park on Tuesday.
Roy Hodgson’s England are riding high after opening up a six-point advantage at the top of their qualifying group by coming from behind to beat Slovenia 3-1 on Saturday.
Having won all four of their Group E games to date, qualification is already beginning to appear a formality, and in age-old rivals Scotland they face a team who have not beaten them in 15 years.
But Scottish confidence is also on the up and with England’s dispiriting World Cup group-stage exit still fresh in the memory, Hodgson will know that a poor result could disturb his side’s fragile momentum.
England won 3-2 when the teams last met at Wembley Stadium in August last year, with Rickie Lambert scoring the winning goal with his first touch of the ball as an international player.
Tuesday’s resumption of hostilities comes with new political undertones, after the people of Scotland voted against breaking away from the rest of Britain in a fiercely fought independence referendum in September.
England have not ventured north of the border since November 1999, when they won the first leg of a Euro 2000 qualifying play-off 2-0 at Hampden Park, and they can expect a fiery reception.
Scotland enjoyed a rousing 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland at a fervent Celtic Park on Friday and England captain Wayne Rooney has warned his team-mates to expect a caustic atmosphere at the 60,000-seater ground.
“You don’t realise until you actually play there what the atmosphere is like,” said the Manchester United striker, who marked his 100th England appearance with the equaliser against Slovenia.
“I remember my first time with United against Celtic and I’d actually been up to watch a couple of Celtic games when Alan Stubbs was there and Roy Keane.
“I was in the crowd and the atmosphere was great, but when you’re actually down there it’s different. You don’t realise until you’re on that pitch what it’s like.
“So maybe a few of them (younger England players), you might need to speak to them and say, ‘Listen, this is going to be hostile. Make sure you blank it out, relax, and play your normal game. Don’t get involved in it.'”
– Gordon eyes comeback –
Scotland’s win over Ireland, secured by a sumptuous Shaun Maloney curler, left Gordon Strachan’s team level on points with Germany and Ireland in Group D and three points below leaders Poland.
Hopes of a first major tournament appearance since the 1998 World Cup therefore remain fully intact ahead of the winter break, and Charlie Mulgrew says there will be no slackening off ahead of England’s visit.
“It will be a huge game,” said the Celtic midfielder.
“Even though it is named a friendly there is never a friendly between Scotland and England, so we are looking forward to it.”
England have allowed goalkeeper Joe Hart to return to Manchester City to rest, which means that Southampton’s Fraser Forster could start at the stadium where he previously spent four years with Celtic.
Hodgson could hand a debut to West Bromwich Albion’s Saido Berahino and will also want to test the sharpness of Ross Barkley and Theo Walcott, but wholesale changes are unlikely.
“I will change the team, but we are not looking to play a totally different team up in Scotland because we know that it is going to be a tough game,” Hodgson said.
“And a game like that in Scotland will probably tell me a little bit more about this team.”
Strachan is expected to rejig his starting XI, with Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon in line to win his first cap for four years after serious injury problems forced him into a two-year career hiatus.
Striker Steven Fletcher is likely to miss out after injuring his ankle against Ireland.