Whites legend Peter Lorimer represented Scotland in the 1974 World Cup but fancies Brazil and not England for the 2014 version.
The World Cup is a gathering of the world’s best footballers so any player worth their salt wants to be there.
I had the opportunity to be involved many years ago with Scotland and it was one of the pinacles of my career. We didn’t go far – not as far as I think that Scotland squad should have done in 1974 tournament – but it was an honour to be there among the best of the best.
Selection was never a foregone conclusion for me and I remember waiting anxiously for the announcement of our squad.
Yes, I was part of a hugely successful Leeds United team but in my position alone there was so much competition – Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Morgan, Tommy Hutchison and others. We had four or five options for every shirt and you’d have to say that a squad with that calibre underachieved in West Germany.
Scottish football is very different now. The decline has been so steep that there isn’t really a world-class player for Gordon Strachan to choose from and nothing like the competition we had 30 or 40 years ago. And in a way, I worry that the same is happening to the England team. There’s talent in there, no doubt at all, but not to the extent you’d expect of a top-level nation.
I’m a Scot, obviously, but I’ll be supporting England over the next few weeks. For all the rivalry, no-one else from the UK is in Brazil and you’d like to think that most people would rally behind the side closest to home. But sad to say, all hopes of a good tournament for the English are pretty much that – hope. I don’t sense much confidence in their chances at all.
The bottom line with the England team is that Roy Hodgson doesn’t have enough first-class ability to work with and the way things are going with the Premier League and the foreign invasion, I can only see it getting worse.
The Football Association is trying to do something about it now but in my opinion the horse has already bolted. It’s fine trying to shut the stable door now but it’s probably too late. The game in England is what it is and part of the reason that the squad in Brazil is so young and inexperienced is because competition for places hasn’t been there for a good few years.
It’s a risk on Hodgson’s part to take so many kids, although you’ve got to commend him for doing it. With the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, you’re talking about guys who are inexperienced in international terms – let alone World Cup terms.
We found out at Leeds that youth and exhuberance can take you a long way but it’s vital to have the right number of older heads in amongst the crowd. A lot of pressure is going to fall on Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard and if they hit form then I can see England fairing well. If they struggle, there isn’t a huge amount of nous to fall back on.
As I see it, England’s chances rest entirely on the first game against Italy. Get a decent result in that match and they should have the confidence and the quality to get through their group. Lose on Saturday night and I think the tournament is probably over. That’s the beauty of the World Cup – it’s on the edge from the very start and there’s very little room for error.
I fancy England to get into the knockout stages. There’s a nice little buzz around the squad and the players don’t seem as weighed down as they have been in previous tournaments. It’s not right to say that there’s no expectation at all because people here aren’t going to accept a tame elimination but if you think back to South Africa in 2010, it was almost a case of everyone waiting for the moment to turn on the squad and Fabio Capello. It came soon enough.
In saying that, the draw will get very tough after the group stages so I think the first knockout round is as far as England will go. That’s where big-match experience really comes in.
As for a winner of the whole tournament, I can’t look too far beyond Brazil. Trying to win the World Cup in your home country is about as daunting as football gets but it cuts both ways. If they get on a roll, playing them and the crowd around them will be a nightmare. They’ve got masses of talent and ability, and the reality with Brazil is quite simple – if it all comes together, they’ll probably do the business.
As an outside shot, I’m going for Uruguay. Every World Cup sees one or two players steal the show and if he’s fit and in form, Luis Suarez could be that man. The heat and the humidity in Brazil is going to suit the South American sides and it’s very easy to understand why no European team has ever won a World Cup there. When you’re a country like Uruguay, players of Suarez’s ilk don’t come along very often and this might be as good a chance as they’ll ever get to get their hands back on the trophy.