McLeish keen to calm his men before Italian storm

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The Independent Online

The excitement is rising as Scotland awaits the biggest match in the country's recent history. Victory against Italy at Hampden Park at teatime on Saturday will book a place at Euro 2008. The national team's manager, Alex McLeish, is trying to calm his players.

"It's a big responsibility," McLeish said, "but it's a game of football and you may not get the result you want. And everybody has to be appreciative of that, not least the players because it means that they can go into the game in a relaxed manner – ready, but understanding that it may not go their way. And that can make them play their best football. They've done that in the past.

"We'll have a team talk before we leave Cameron House [Scotland's training base] – I'll then have a couple of minutes with the players before they go out and that's when they all psych themselves up and get a little bit loud in the dressing room about being together and trusting each other.

"I know we can do this. It's not a question of me saying, 'We will do it' – I know we can."

The Faroe Islands, France, Georgia, Lithuania and Ukraine have been beaten. McLeish replaced Walter Smith in January with a genuine belief he could make a difference.

McLeish, speaking to Tennents.com, said: "I thought, 'Should I take this job on? What if it goes pear-shaped?' But then I said, 'What if we can do this? What if we can ... really compete with Italy and France, and Ukraine, and do something the Scots haven't done for a long time?'"

Sir Alex Ferguson, once McLeish's manager at Aberdeen, is sure that Scotland can qualify. He said: "A few players have emerged and done well. You look at the likes of [Scott] Brown and [Darren] Fletcher. [Barry] Ferguson is in the best form of his life, [Lee] McCulloch is doing a great job and [Craig] Gordon has been fantastic.

"Alex has done a fantastic job. Walter started it, of course, but Alex has carried on the mantle. Now Scotland have a great chance of qualifying for the finals, which is marvellous."

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