Scotland rivalry sparks Roy Hodgson`s imagination

England boss Roy Hodgson believe his side`s pairing with Scotland for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers will provide clashes of an intensity rarely seen in the preliminary stages.

AFP| Last Updated: Jul 26, 2015, 08:46 AM IST
Scotland rivalry sparks Roy Hodgson`s imagination

Saint Petersburg: England boss Roy Hodgson believe his side`s pairing with Scotland for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers will provide clashes of an intensity rarely seen in the preliminary stages.

The oldest sides in international football were drawn together along with Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta at a grand ceremony in Saint Petersburg to officially launch the competition.

However, despite the attention garnered by the clash with their neighbours, Hodgson admitted he was happy to avoid the likes of Italy and France in the draw.

"It`s not a walk in the park, but I think it could have been an awful lot harder," he said.

"I think the Scotland games will be the two games in the qualifying stages that really excite everyone and ignite the imagination and we`ve got to be up for it.

"You don`t play the fixtures on paper, you play them on the field and you`ve got to be very careful because we`ve just played Slovenia recently.

"I thought we played quite well and deserved to win, but it wasn`t easy and it won`t be again."

Hodgson`s men were 3-1 victors when the two sides met in a friendly at Celtic Park in November.

However, they haven`t met in a competitive fixture since England edged a playoff for Euro 2000 by 2-1 back in 1999.

"We have the experience from Celtic Park which was a fantastic occasion. It really is everything it is cracked up to be.

"We knew that in pots two and three we were going to get teams that are more than capable of beating you, so we weren`t too surprised when Slovakia and Scotland came out.

"The journeys are useful ones or easy ones compared to what they could have been and also fixtures like England versus Scotland really fire the imagination and that is good too."

As well as the old enemy, Scotland are likely to have to overcome a strong challenge from Slovakia and Slovenia to claim at least a playoff place.

Slovakia are well on course to qualify for Euro 2016 having won all six of their qualifiers to date, including a 2-1 win over European champions Spain last October.

Slovenia, meanwhile, matched England for long spells in a thrilling qualifier in June before a late Wayne Rooney winner handed the visitors a 3-2 win.

Scottish FA president Alan McRae insisted he is confident that Gordon Strachan`s resurgent side can qualify for the finals for the first time since 1998.

"I think we will be quietly confident. England have a good team, good players, but we will be there to take them on.

"It`s a great rivalry, but I think we`ve got a chance to beat them, particularly at home.

"Of course it will be intense. It is a very competitive game, but you`ve got to remember the friendly in November our mission was to beat the Republic of Ireland beforehand (in a qualifier) and I think we exhausted ourselves in winning that game."

"I`m sure Gordon will have everyone focused for the entire campaign."