Scotland should feel no shame if they beat Ukraine

The nature of international football usually makes for entirely predictable outcomes. With little time to prepare players for matches, it is inevitable that the teams with the best players tend to prevail over those of an inferior quality and, so, often it is only during the latter stages of major tournaments when 'surprise' results occur.

Of course, the advent of World Cup and European Championship play-offs have added a more unpredictable edge to proceedings by dint of the fact that they pit two sides of relatively similarly standing against each other but even these tend to have a familiar feel to them (notwithstanding South Macedonia's defeat of Italy in the first round of World Cup play-offs).

Read the bare statistics and the favourites at Hampden Park on Wednesday night – based on qualification records and home advantage – are Scotland. Ukraine managed just two wins in Group D but both came away from Kyiv and what's more they did not lose a match in a pool that included world champions France and fellow Euro 2020 qualifiers Finland. Scotland, by contrast, had the much more convincing record in finishing with 23 points to Ukraine's 12, albeit having played two extra games. On the flip side, it must be remembered that Scotland's record in play-off matches is lined with as many victories as it is defeats, although they have prevailed in their most recent of those following shootout wins over Israel and Serbia.

For all that the numbers point towards a Scotland win there is an intangible quality to the encounter. Ukraine's players – despite some low-intensity exhibition games by way of preparation – will be motivated by a greater sense of desire to qualify than just national pride with war raging in their homeland and Russia carrying out unspeakable acts against its people. How the Ukraine players react to the emotions they will be feeling remains to be written.

Speaking at the weekend, Sergei Baltacha, the former St Johnstone midfielder, who was born in Ukraine but represented the Soviet Union said that he did not care about the result and that the most important thing was that Ukraine be given the chance to demonstrate the it “was still a part of the world, the right world”. It is hard not to feel great sympathy for that viewpoint. At the same time Scotland should feel no shame should they end Ukraine's dreams of qualification with the rest of the world watching and willing them to fail.

Reflections on the Champions League final

Anyone who has ever been inside the claustrophobic grip of a large crowd at a football match will identify with the Liverpool fans who were herded through a small opening on their way to the Stade de France and then kettled for hours prior to Saturday's Champions League final.

Even now, after all we have learned from Hillsborough, and the part police failures played in the deaths of 97 people, there are still scumbags who choose to blame those who were the victims over those who were responsible. It was little surprise then that some sought to suggest events on Saturday were again the fault of Liverpool supporters rather than listen to the testimony of those who were there.

UEFA dismissed claims that there had been counterfeit tickets circulating around the Stade de France but Andy Robertson, the Scotland captain, was damning of the governing body, and of the heavy-handed tactics of the French police, and said that a friend who had he given a ticket had been refused admission.

“One of my mates got told it was a fake, which I assure you it wasn’t. It was a shambles really,” the 28-year-old said.

I know who I believe and it's not the organisers.

McKenna's smart move

When Scott McKenna left Aberdeen in 2020 for Nottingham Forest there were plenty of eyebrows raised. A significant tranche of critics did not believe the Scotland defender to be good enough to make a fist of his move to the Championship but the reality could not have been more different. Fast forward two years and McKenna has been one of Forest's players of the season during a campaign which ended in promotion to the Premier League. Elevation to English football's top-flight gives Scotland another centre-back operating at the highest level while simultaneously providing Aberdeen with a £1m windfall as part of the terms of the deal that took him to the City Ground. It also continues a long tradition of Scots plying their trade at Forest and the club's return to English football's top division is a welcome one.

Steve Cooper, the Forest manager, is in no doubt about the contribution that McKenna has made to his side and what he asks of his centre-backs.

“We want the team to play in a certain way and do certain things, but I always say to them, it’s a decision-making game and you have to play what you see. Scott is a good footballer. He’s got a nice left foot. He can hit a range of passes. We're very happy with him.”

Piggott made racing better

The headlines of Lester Piggott's career need little in the way of embellishment.

The flat racing legend, who died in Switzerland yesterday morning at the age of 86, rode his first winner at the age of 12, won a record 30 British Classics, has a record nine Derby wins, was 11-time champion jockey and was still racking up winners at the age of 58 when he eventually retired.

I distinctly remember Piggott being referred to as the housewives favourite on visits to my grandmother's, not because of his matinee-idol looks, of course, but rather because of his propensity for bolstering the weekly shopping money thanks to his prolific winning streaks – particularly in The Derby during a golden era for the sport which often pitted the cool Piggot head to head with the much more loveable Willie Carson, Pat Eddery and Greville Starkey.

"I rode in a golden era of jockeys because Lester Piggott made us better," said Carson yesterday. “He was magical on top of a horse. He had this confidence about him and didn’t care about what people were going to think.”

Hamilton's ring of approval

It's not often you'll find the Monday Kick-off agreeing with Lewis Hamilton but regarding the furore over jewellery being worn by Formula One drivers, he clearly has a point.

The FIA extended a long-standing rule prohibiting the wearing of jewellery in cars during races at the start of the season. The association claims the rule was enforced originally to safeguard driver safety in the event of an accident - which all sounds a little like codswallop given the speeds with which drivers hurtle around the track.

Other drivers have voiced their disapproval in the past at having to remove wedding rings or religious symbols but it is widely believed that Hamilton – who wears a nose ring that is welded into place – has been the main target of the ruling, not that he is overly perturbed.

"Honestly I feel like there's too much time and energy being given to this," said Hamilton in Monaco on Friday. "It's not where my focus is this weekend. I've taken my studs out every time I've been in the car and I will continue to do so, and the nose ring is not a problem at the moment."


The value in millions to Nottingham Forest after winning yesterday's Sky Bet Championship play-off. Should they emulate Brentford and avoid relegation next season that figure could rise to 300m