Football / International: Scots' mission to corral Maltese

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ANDY ROXBURGH last night likened Scotland's remaining seven World Cup qualifying matches, starting against Malta at Ibrox tonight, to Clint Eastwood facing a succession of Wild West gunfights. 'If the shooting is not up to scratch,' the Scotland coach warned, 'we're bust.'

After defeat in Switzerland and two home draws, Scotland must beat Malta if their hopes of spending the summer of 1994 in real cowboy country are not to bite the dust. Anything less against Group One's equivalent of a one-horse town and Roxburgh might find himself unforgiven.

Ally McCoist, who resumed training yesterday, is now expected to shrug off a thigh injury and play. Dave McPherson and Alan McLaren are also nursing strains, but Roxburgh has named both in a mini-squad of 13.

The inclusion of Pat Nevin, that most unorthodox of wingers, offers a clue as to how Roxburgh plans to break down the anticipated massed defence.

When San Marino pulled everyone back last November, Roxburgh responded with a fistful of forwards who simply got in each other's way. This time, width is the priority.

Nevin could well line up on the right of a five-man midfield, supplying the ammunition for McCoist and Eoin Jess upfront. The Tranmere player last started an international against the United States in May, scoring the only goal, though he also came on twice during the European Championship finals.

When he joined the unfashionable First Division club on returning from Sweden, Roburgh promised he would not be forgotten. 'It was always going to be harder with Tranmere than with Everton, but I'm no less a player because I've moved two miles across a river,' Nevin said.

Tonight the Scots must pour forward as surely but steadily as the nearby Clyde. Malta's recent 2-1 home defeat by Italy, in which they missed a penalty, should serve as a caution to the crowd not to expect a flood of goals. 'They're light years ahead of San Marino in fitness and organisation,' Roxburgh asserted. 'But I think we're capable of beating them.'

Malta's coach, Philip Psaila, seems to think so, too. A suitably hirsute if rather unmenacing Lee van Cleef to his counterpart's Eastwood, Psaila admitted that 'the first objective' was an all- too-rare point, though he added: 'If we're going to lose, we must keep fighting to the end.'

Like Roxburgh, a close friend since the Scot taught him on a Fifa coaching course 10 years ago, Psaila is concerned about his top scorer. Carmel Busuttil, whose record of 16 goals in 56 internationals compares favourably with McCoist's 13 from 44, had six stitches in a calf wound sustained with his Belgian club last weekend. Whether or not Busuttil plays, the man in the tartan poncho is clear about Scotland's mission. 'We'll go after them,' Roxburgh promised, returning to the spaghetti western imagery. 'We'll be the pursuer.'

SCOTLAND (from): Goram (Rangers); Malpas (Dundee United), McLaren (Hearts), McLeish (Aberdeen, capt), McPherson (Rangers), McAllister (Leeds), Nevin (Tranmere), McStay, Collins, Boyd (all Celtic), McCoist (Rangers), Jess (Aberdeen), Robertson (Hearts).

MALTA: Cluett (Floriana); Brincat (Hamrun Spartans), Buhagiar, Buttigieg (both Floriana), J Camilleri (Valletta), Delia (Floriana), Laferla (Valletta), Galea (Hamrun Spartans), Gregory (Sliema Wanderers), Vella (St Andrews, capt), Busuttil (Genk) or Sultana (Hamrun Spartans).

----------------------------------------------------------------- WORLD CUP GROUP ONE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Switzerland 4 3 1 0 14 3 7 Italy 3 1 2 0 4 3 4 Portugal 2 1 1 0 1 0 3 Scotland 3 0 2 1 1 3 2 Malta 4 0 1 3 1 6 1 Estonia 2 0 1 1 0 6 1 -----------------------------------------------------------------