Confident Scotland happy to go Dutch

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The Independent Football

Scotland will take cold comfort from being put in a small and mostly short-haul qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup after being drawn with the Netherlands, who thrashed them 6-0 in their last meeting, and Norway, arguably the toughest opponents they could have faced from the pot of third seeds.

Completing a section that must be topped to guarantee a place in South Africa are Macedonia, who took points from England and beat Croatia in Euro 2008 qualifying, and Iceland, against whom the Scots have a perfect record from four previous meetings.

The Scots' group could certainly have been tougher. Despite Alex McLeish's public pre-draw statement that he would like another chance to face Italy, the Azzurri would have been tough, as would France. But the Dutch will be hot favourites to win the group, Norway will feel progress is attainable, and Macedonia and Iceland both have plenty of potential to be banana skins.

"I am philosophical about draws and think 'bring it on' whoever we are playing," said McLeish, who is highly unlikely to remain as Scotland's manager until the campaign kicks off in September next year. If he is not installed as Birmingham's manager within a few weeks, it is probable he will go elsewhere.

He was in South Africa for the draw, however, and insisted that Scotland's last meeting with the Netherlands would not have a bearing on what happens when they meet again. They last played on 19 November 2003 in a play-off for a place at Euro 2004. Scotland won the home leg 1-0 thanks to a superb goal by James McFadden. But in the return, they were hit for six, with Ruud van Nistelrooy scoring a hat-trick.

Most of the Netherlands' squad remains in place, with players at clubs from Real Madrid to Milan to Liverpool and elsewhere in the Premier League, but McLeish said: "We are a different team now and I don't think [a drubbing] will happen again."

Scotland were in the second pot of seeds mainly because of a fine, if ultimately unsuccessful, Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. They won eight of 12 matches in a group featuring Italy, France and Ukraine and only had their hopes dashed in injury time of their last game. They have risen to No 14 in the world rankings.

"Hopefully, we can go a step further [than Euro 2008] and qualify," McLeish said. "I would have taken Italy again," he reiterated after the draw. "I would have taken France as we beat them twice. We rose to the challenge and also played Italy off the park in the second half at Hampden."

The Scottish FA's chief executive, Gordon Smith, was happier to have avoided further meetings with last year's World Cup finalists. "No disrespect to Holland, but we would have taken them rather than the other two," he said.

"Being second seeds has been a big advantage to us as there are one or two other groups that we would probably prefer not to be in. We should be reasonably happy with the draw."

Norway are familiar opponents to Scotland, and came close to qualifying for Euro 2008 themselves before missing out by a point behind Turkey, who themselves finished distant runners-up to Euro 2004 winners Greece in Group C.

The Scots and Norway were in the same qualifying group for the 2006 World Cup, along with the eventual World Cup winners, Italy. The Italians won that group, and Norway were second, with Scotland third. Both meetings in that campaign ended with away wins, first a Norwegian win in Glasgow, 1-0, then a Scottish win in Oslo, 2-1.

The nations also met during France 98, and drew 1-1, and played each other in qualifying for the World Cup of 1990, when Scotland won away and drew at home to the Scandinavian side.

Scotland have played Iceland four times and won all their matches, in qualifying for the 1986 World Cup and for the Euro 2004 play-offs. They have never met Macedonia before.

McLeish said last night it was not possible to guarantee he would be in charge when qualifying begins. "It's a long time away. You can never tell in football. It's sometimes out of your control," he said. "But just now I'm here on Scotland duty and I'm going to talk as Scotland manager until something else happens."

Group Nine

* THE NETHERLANDS: Ranked No 9 in world and coached by Marco van Basten. Not as dominant as expected in Euro 2008 qualifying but still made it.

* NORWAY: World No 28, coached by Age Hareide. Missed qualification for Euro 2008 finishing eight points behind Greece in Group C.

* MACEDONIA: World No 59, coached by Srecko Katanec. Finished fifth of seven in England's Euro 2008 qualifying group.

* ICELAND: Ranked No 89, coached by Olafur Johannesson. Won twice in Euro 2008 qualifying to finish one point ahead of Liechtenstein.

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