ENGLAND boss Roy Hodgson believes tonight’s highly-charged friendly against rivals Scotland at Celtic Park can provide some of the intensity which is lacking from their tepid Euro 2016 qualifying group.
The Three Lions infamously endured their worst World Cup showing for more than half a century during the summer but currently sit pretty at the summit of Group E after a perfect start on the road to next year’s finals in France.
Added to the dead rubber draw against Costa Rica in Brazil and underwhelming friendly win against Norway at Wembley in September, England are currently in the midst of a six-game unbeaten run.
Victories over Switzerland, San Marino, Estonia and Slovenia make it difficult to gauge England’s progress since their South American debacle, although Hodgson insists the Scotland clash compensates for the lack of recent bouts against global powerhouses.
“For me, that is the type of friendly you want because we have the qualifying games, but we also want to find fixtures that will test us and give us the type of matches that we want to come,” said Hodgson.
“It’s a very exciting game, it’s a big game. We know we’ll be given a very tough test up here. We know that Scotland will be very keen to win the game. I’m certainly hoping and believing we’ll have the same degree of hope and belief.
“The fans give Celtic, and I’m sure Scotland, incredible support. We’ll have to deal with that and not let it affect us mentally. Our younger players might not have had that experience before.”
The Three Lions head north of the border for the first time since their European Championship play-off in 1999 when a Paul Scholes double fired Kevin Keegan’s England into the ascendency at Hampden Park ahead of the return leg at Wembley.
England will face a buoyant and in-form Scottish side which has lost just once in 10 matches, with their only defeat in the last 14 months being a narrow 2-1 loss to world champions Germany in Dortmund in September.
The Tartan Army maintained their hopes of reaching a first major finals since 1998, also in France, with a 1-0 success over the Republic of Ireland at Celtic Park on Friday night.
Former Bhoys manager Gordon Strachan has breathed new life into the Scottish national team and has revived flagging hopes, with his side likely to be roared on tonight by a near sell-out and expectant crowd at the 60,000-seater arena.
Counterpart Hodgson is set to ring the changes from the team which beat Slovenia on Saturday and the England camp is mindful to avoid their rookie internationals being overawed by the white hot atmosphere.
Skipper Wayne Rooney, who won his 100th cap and equalled Jimmy Greaves’ 44 international goals at the weekend, insists the potential intimidating impact of the Celtic Park crowd is most definitely not a stone which has been left unturned.
“I have spoken to the younger players because the crowd here can take you by surprise,” said Rooney, who has played at the Glasgow venue twice for Manchester United but failed to record a win on either occasion.
“It will be a big test. Scotland are doing well and getting some good results. The atmosphere is really intense and we have to be ready for it.”
HISTORY: FAMOUS AULD ENEMY CLASHES
■ 1872: The first official international fixture was played at the West of Scotland cricket club in Partick in front of 4,000 spectators. It finished 0-0
Wizards wow Wembley
■ 1928: One of Scotland’s finest performances saw them rout England 5-1 – thanks to Alex Jackson’s hat-trick – in London to earn the nickname “Wizards of Wembley”
■ 1937: A then world-record (and still a European record) 149,415 crammed into Hampden Park to witness the hosts defeat the Auld Enemy 3-1
England hit nine
■ 1961: England’s 9-3 victory at Wembley is the biggest win margin in the fixture and was said to have played a part in Scottish keeper Frank Haffey’s subsequent emigration to Australia
World champions humbled
■ 1967: A Scotland side featuring four of Celtic’s Lisbon Lions plus Denis Law and Billy Bremner delighted in toppling recently crowned world champions England on their own turf 3-2
■ 1977: Scotland’s 2-1 was overshadowed by the pitch invasion that followed, in which visiting fans pulled down Wembley’s goalposts
■ 1996: Paul Gascoigne’s iconic goal earned Euro 96 hosts England a 2-0 win to help them on their way to an inevitable semi-final shoot-out defeat to Germany