Brave Hartley backs Scots to preserve feelgood factor

Celtic midfielder claims 'no fear' attitude can lift club and country to dizzy heights
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The Independent Football

Just like the Russians, Paul Hartley is becoming quite adept at October Revolutions. This time last year, he was rising up against the Romanov Empire at Tynecastle. Now he is plotting to overthrow European football's ruling elite.

Hartley's last fight did not have a happy ending. This one, however, just might. The midfielder will join the Scotland squad at Loch Lomond on Tuesday fresh from his own part in three days that shook the (football) world. Hartley's Celtic side were handing out a beating to Milan last Wednesday, just as Rangers did a day earlier by thrashing Lyon in their own backyard, in the Champions' League. Then, Aberdeen went to Dnipro on Thursday and removed Ukraine's second-best side from the Uefa Cup.

Suddenly, Marcello Lippi's observation that Scotland are Europe's up and coming nation does not seem quite so wild. Ukraine come to Glasgow next Saturday to face a country whose entire football fraternity has been lifted to another level by that eyecatching defeat of France in Paris last month. Scotland are at the top of Group B in the race for Euro 2008 and no longer seem the pushovers their rivals expected them to be.

A sellout 52,000 crowd will be at Hampden Park. Fans slept out all night to obtain tickets, but for once it is not Andriy Shevchenko that people want to see. It is Hartley and Co. The midfielder snuffed out Andrea Pirlo at Parkhead in midweek in the same way he did Florent Malouda in Paris. Reputations count for nothing now with the Scots.

"We are the up and coming nation," agreed Hartley. "Things have been going well for the last few years. Scotland have done well, Rangers got a good result in Lyon and then ourselves against Milan."

A year ago, Hartley could not have envisaged he would be facing Milan, never mind beating them. He had just returned from Kiev – where he was one of four Hearts players in the Scotland side that lost 2-0 to Ukraine in their first Euro 2008 encounter – to find a dressing-room revolt brewing over the running of the Edinburgh club by its owner, Vladimir Romanov. Hartley, Steven Pressley and Craig Gordon hijacked a press conference a week later to air their disapproval of Romanov – the trio have all since left Tynecastle.

There will be no Hearts presence next week. Gordon is with Sunderland while Pressley is also at Celtic but out of Alex McLeish's plans because he cannot get into Gordon Strachan's team and the sole survivor, Robbie Neilson, is not selected.

The Scotland manager knows that the feelgood factor from Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen will motivate his players. The key issue is what will motivate Shevchenko and Co, after falling out of the qualification picture?

"To be on top of that group makes for fantastic reading but we do have challenges and hard games. We're expected to beat Ukraine at home and we're expected to win in Georgia. The expectation levels have gone through the roof but we know those are the demands on the squad. We are still not favourites, although we have put ourselves in a wonderful position.

"It looks difficult for Ukraine to qualify but they have pride to play for and Oleg Blokhin may try some young players. We're expected to win at Hampden now and we've found that a little bit difficult in the past, but we're positive and we're going to keep the confidence going. Some people have said the squad is not as talented as squads of the past and that they haven't qualified for a major championship in 10 years but look at the talent of James McFadden with that goal in France.

"Sometimes people can freeze when they go to a cauldron like the Parc des Princes but they really showed their class and courage."

scotland v ukraine

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