One of the lowest points in my football obsession was watching Scotland’s game against Leichtenstein at Hampden. I still wake up in a cold sweat after nightmares about the lack of desire, lack of quality and lack of natural talent on display that night.
Scotland have gone beyond a time when jokes are necessary or worthwhile. The poverty-stricken nature of the domestic league makes an international wilderness inevitable.
And yet this weekend they take on a side in a very similar position. The Czech Republic were the second team in Euro 96 for many fans. Since then they have steadily fallen. They lost 2-0 away at Azerbaijan this time last year. Hell, they even lost at Hampden in March.
This is a chance at redemption after that miserable Leichtenstein game. A draw might only be necessary to achieve this. A considerable loss, and Craig Levein will already be staring over his shoulder in fear.
France have won the World Cup, they have won the European Championships. But after the victories in these triumphs, the most important result of French football history may well have been the win in Sarajevo in September.
It ended a run of seven games without a win over four months that had seen the national side lose to China, Mexico, South Africa, Norway and finally Belarus at home.
The doubt and farce cast in the World Cup created wounds that will take time to heal. France take on Romania this Saturday knowing that another win is necessary.
The French lost the first two games played under Laurent Blanc. Raymond Domenech lost his reputation in a way that Schteve McClaren can even laugh at. Blanc needs wins to ensure that history is not repeated.
It can be said that life works in cycles, and in this (and many other ways) football mirrors life.
Take the Wales job, for example. Every two to three years a new man is put at the helm of the slow-moving ship. Initial optimism is clear, but soon ebbed away by mediocrity, represented by the lack of qualification for a major tournament since the 1976 European Championships.
Bryan Flynn is the latest incumbent, albeit on a caretaker basis. In this context, for caretaker we can simply read trial period: if Flynn and Wales are successful, he will keep the job.
Wales face Bulgaria tonight knowing that a win is necessary if all hopes of qualification are not to be lost once again. This is a Bulgaria side that looked ineffective for the most part at Wembley, and Wales have to attack them in search of victory.
The same old problem remains however: Bellamy, Gabbidon, Earnshaw, Ardley and Stock have all withdrawn from the squad. It’s a sad state of affairs that the 24-man Welsh squad for this game have 30 Premier League appearances between them, and Gareth Bale and Danny Collins share half of those.
You honestly have to pinch yourself when you look at Portugal’s recent record. In the last year they have drawn with the Cape Verde Islands, conceded four at home to Cyprus and lost to Norway. After two games of the qualifying they have one point and sit fourth in the group. Two teams ahead of them have a game in hand.
To add insult to injury, Carlos Queiroz was removed a week after being suspended from football for six months after interrupting a drugs test. Jose Mourinho and Real then rejected the offer for the Special One to lead the team temporarily.
And so they have turned to Bento, who was sacked by Sporting Lisbon, his only management role to date. Bento has a mammoth task on his hands to rebuild a team that has been chastised and disregarded by its public.
Denmark at home might just be the game of the night to watch.
Ahhhh, that’s nice, back to sunny ol’ England. And Bradford to be exact.
Peter Taylor is a footballing enigma. He has managed England U21s, the England side on a caretaker basis and Leicester City in the Premier League. His last three jobs have been Stevenage in the Conference (failed to reach playoffs), Wycombe Wanderers (sacked) and Bradford City.
The perennial sleeping giant of League Two, Taylor has been tasked with gaining promotion for the Bantams. They currently sit 23rd in League Two, with eight points from ten games. Defeat at fourth from bottom Barnet this weekend will probably lead to Taylor being sacked.
It is a strange scenario when managers take jobs seemingly below their level, when failure will mean a significant loss in reputation, earnings, and employment potential. A man who was seen ten years ago as having a bright future ahead is close to becoming a persona non grata in league football.