Burley calls for 'character' as Scots battle odds
George Burley knows the rest of the football world thinks his depleted, goal-shy Scotland team will be on a hiding to nothing this evening when they face the Netherlands here in World Cup qualifying at the Amsterdam ArenA, and even the man himself admits that a result – any result – would be "massive" in the "biggest game of my managerial career."
But that does not mean he is preparing a damage limitation exercise. Some 15,000 members of the Tartan Army will be in town – an airlift was under way yesterday, as an armada of TA ferries also bore down on the Dutch coast – and they expect nothing less than a square go at the Oranje. They don't just want to banish memories of the 6-0 thumping they saw last time they were here, in November 2003: they want to take home something unforgettable for the right reasons.
They will not care how it is done; a James McFadden-esque wonder strike of the type that beat France in Paris in late 2007 would do, albeit from someone else because the Birmingham man is one of 10 missing players. A tap-in would be fine, or any ugly deflection.
But if you believe Burley, his patched-up side will aspire to more, and if not try to play the Dutch at their own "Total Football" game, then at some big-hearted, less technical Tartan approximation of it.
"The Dutch style of play is possession and patience, playing through midfield," he said. "They use wide players with pace, and rotate in midfield to drop in behind the striker. They press you quickly. We will have to play our own game but we need to win our individual battles, and move the ball quickly. We've got to get into them, not stand off. We've got to close them down."
His final pre-match words will have nothing Braveheart about them, he insists. "On an occasion like this, against one of the world's top six sides, you won't need much to inspire them. I'll just remind them not to come off the pitch having left anything out there. It's not all about skill, you've got to have a big heart, and character."
Burley will wait until this morning to tell his players who is starting but Allan McGregor will replace the dropped Craig Gordon in goal. A ravaged defence leaves few options so centre-halves Gary Caldwell and rookie Christophe Berra should be flanked by the aged but experienced Graham Alexander and Gary Naysmith.
In trying to match the Dutch's trademark 4-2-3-1, Burley will play five in midfield but they will be expected to be flexible, with the core trio of "musketeers" (Scott Brown, Darren Fletcher and Barry Ferguson) holding and advancing as play allows. Kenny Miller is the likely lone front man.
That leaves the wide players. Burley likes West Bromwich's James Morrison and he is favourite to start on the right, with Steven Whittaker the other option there. Derby's Gary Teale has been training this week on the left, and both Morrison and Teale would fulfill Burley's remit of running the flanks.
Ferguson, the captain, rarely gets overtly worked up before he crosses the line, and he was his usual cool self last night, arguing some of Scotland's best performances have come in the toughest assignments. "We've beat Holland at Hampden before, we beat France home and away in Euro 2008 qualifying. We've got the quality to get a result."
Netherlands (possible, 4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg (Ajax); Marcelis (PSV), Ooijer (Blackburn), Mathijsen (Hamburg), Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord); Van Bommel (Bayern Munich), De Jong (Man City); Kuyt (Liverpool), Van Persie (Arsenal), Robben (Real Madrid); Huntelaar (Real Madrid).
Scotland (possible, 4-2-3-1): McGregor (Rangers); Alexander (Burnley), Caldwell (Celtic), Berra (Hearts), Naysmith (Sheff Utd); Brown (Celtic), Ferguson (Rangers); Whittaker (Rangers), Fletcher (Man Utd), Morrison (West Brom); Miller (Rangers).
Referee: L Duhamel (France).
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