Ailing McLeish seeks remedy from his team

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The Independent Online

Alex McLeish has caught a bug that made him look peaky and sound groggy here yesterday but the Scotland manager joked that the only drug he needs at the moment is Valium, to cope with the denouement to his side's remarkable Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

A win against Georgia in the Boris Paichadze stadium tonight would not guarantee Scotland go through, although that astounding feat would come to fruition later in the evening if France take fewer points from Lithuania than Scotland take from here. Scotland kick off at 6pm British time, while the French do not start until two hours later.

Even one point against Georgia – or none – would still leave Scotland's destiny in their own hands ahead of next month's last qualifier, at Hampden against Italy.

"Let's face it, when the draw was made we were cringing," McLeish said of Group B. "The first reaction had to be, 'Forget it. We're not going to make it to this tournament.' But whatever happens now, we can be pleased."

McLeish's young squad are making history. Scotland have won six straight games, friendlies included, for the first time since 1949. Victory tonight would complete the first run of seven wins for 80 years. James McFadden also stands on the cusp of a personal milestone, having scored in each of Scotland's last three games. Only one Scotland player has ever scored in four consecutive matches: Colin Stein, back in 1969.

McLeish included McFadden, 24, when he talked of "emerging star quality" in his side. "We are watching some top, top players emerge," he said. "Not just in terms of ability but as all-round players, committed to their team, players you can trust to do a good job. There's no doubt their performances have improved their stature in the game."

Two of those, Scott Brown and Alan Hutton, both 22 and both inspirational in Saturday's 3-1 win over Ukraine, will be missing injured. Both would have started, as would Lee McCulloch (suspended) and Paul Hartley (injured). Three more who would have made the bench (goalkeeper Allan McGregor, defender Gary Caldwell and striker Garry O'Connor) are also out. A comprehensive restructuring will be required, but quiet confidence runs deep.

"We have 20 players and team selection is quite a routine job this time around," McLeish said. Burnley's veteran full-back, Graham Alexander, is likely to replace Hutton. Darren Fletcher is back from injury to fill one hole in midfield while West Ham's Christian Dailly will probably be asked to play Hartley's holding role. McFadden is likely to start just behind Kenny Miller.

McLeish, who confirmed his side would be playing for the win, added: "It's a great opportunity for the guys who come into the team to show they are worthy of a place against Italy."

Scotland's captain, Barry Ferguson, is one booking away from missing that finale but insisted it would not alter his approach. "Getting booked is part of the game," he said. "I'm not going in there thinking I can't tackle, that's for sure."

Georgia lost 2-1 at Hampden in a match where they were technically superior. They will be depleted tonight. Their captain, Kakha Kaladze, is injured as is the heartbeat of their midfield, Levan Kobiashvili. Their goalkeeper, Georgi Lomaia, pulled out of the squad yesterday after a poor game at the weekend. Georgi Makaridze of Dynamo Tbilisi, aged just 17, is likely to deputise in his first competitive international. "There is no hope of an easy game," he said. Two other teenagers could play: Empoli's Levan Mchedlidze, a 17-year-old striker, and Schalke's Levan Kenia, 16, a fast, skilful midfielder. Blackburn's Zurab Khizanishvili returns to the defence after suspension.

Georgia (possible, 4-4-2): Makaridze (FC Dynamo Tbilisi); Shashiashvili (Sturm Graz), Salukvadze (Rubin Kazan), Khizanishvili (Blackburn), Asatiani (Lokomotiv Moscow); Tskitishvili (unattached), Kvirkvelia (Metalurh Zaporizhya), Menteshashvili (FK Ventspils), Kankava (Schalke 04); Mchedlidze (Empoli), Demetradze (FC Arsenal Kiev).

Scotland (possible, 4-1-3-2): Gordon (Sunderland); Alexander (Burnley), Weir (Rangers), McManus (Celtic), Naysmith (Sheffield United); Dailly (West Ham); Fletcher (Manchester United), Ferguson (Rangers), Pearson (Derby); McFadden (Everton), Miller (Derby).

Referee: K Kircher (Germany).

Group B

Remaining fixtures: Today: France v Lithuania; Georgia v Scotland; Ukraine v Faroe Islands. 17 Nov: Lithuania v Ukraine; Scotland v Italy. 21 Nov: Georgia v Lithuania; Italy v Faroe Islands; Ukraine v France. What Scotland have to do Alex McLeish's side will qualify if they better France's result tonight. If they both win, a point against Italy next month will be enough. Should Scotland draw or lose tonight a win against Italy would see them qualify.

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