Glasgow’s Celtic Park will be the venue as football’s oldest rivals lock horns once more on Tuesday. While both countries have fallen some way from their positions at the forefront of the sport at the end of the 19th century, there will still be far more riding on England’s visit to Scotland on Tuesday than your average end-of-year friendly.
For England and Scotland, qualifying for Euro 2016 is the undoubted focus. Both teams couldn’t have wished for much better starts, with England beating Slovenia 3-1 at Wembley on Saturday to make it four wins from as many matches and Scotland getting a massive 1-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland to move into third position and a playoff spot in a hotly competitive group.
Both teams’ coaches now face the tricky balancing act of giving some of their fringe players a chance to impress, while also honoring the historical significance of a rivalry dating back to 1872.
“I would love to give everybody the experience of playing the game, one way or another, but I've got to balance it with wanting to win it,” Scotland boss Gordon Strachan said. “We want to compete and make it as difficult for the other team as possible. England have got terrific players. They were comfortable winners against Slovenia. They could have stepped up any time they felt like it.”
Strachan has overseen just one defeat, away at word champions Germany, in his 10 matches in charge. With the expanded format of the European Championship and having made such a promising start, it would now be a major disappointment were France in 2016 not to mark 37th-ranked Scotland’s first appearance at a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup.
Qualification for France already looks a mere formality for the team currently 17 places above Scotland in the FIFA rankings, England. Having negotiated their toughest task of qualifying with a win in Switzerland, it would take an extraordinary turn of events to see Hodgson’s men miss out from a group also containing Slovenia, Lithuania, Estonia and San Marino. Indeed, the biggest problem for Hodgson in the short-term is likely to be maintaining the focus of his players in matches where the main talking point is not whether a win will be forthcoming but how many goals they will rack up. To that end, Hodgson is relishing the physical and emotional challenge Scotland will provide.
“It will be a test,” Hodgson said. “We have done all we can do in these first four qualifying games so we are reasonably satisfied with that, but we know there is a long way to go. A game like that in Scotland will probably tell me a little bit more about this team.
"I hope the players who get a chance to play will be able to stand up to any crowd pressure and I hope they will learn from it. Any lessons we take from it will only be valuable in the future.”
Hodgson is expected to hand a debut to West Brom forward Saido Berahino, while Stewart Downing could be rewarded for his fine start to the season with West Ham with a first appearance for his country in more than two years. There will definitely be a change in goal from the team that beat Slovenia, with Joe Hart having returned to Manchester City and set to be replaced by Fraser Forster, who will be in familiar surroundings having spent four seasons with Celtic.
Prediction: There is likely to be ample intensity to the encounter, although quality may be in shorter supply. England will relish being able to use their pace on the break should Scotland push forward, but with Strachan showing an ability to grind out results a fairly uninspiring draw could be the result.
Scotland 1-1 England
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EST
Live stream: ESPN3