Daunting record highlights size of Scotland's task

Click to follow
The Independent Football

All of Scotland's players reported for a light training session yesterday in good health ahead of tomorrow's Euro 2008 qualifier against France in Paris but you only need to look at Les Bleus' record in competitive games to understand that Alex McLeish's side will require a superhuman effort, or divine intervention, to leave the Parc des Princes with even a point. As Roy Aitken, one of manager McLeish's coaching assistants, reiterated yesterday: "We're facing one of the best sides in the world."

The last big event that France missed out on was the 1994 World Cup. They did not need to qualify for France 98 (as hosts) or the 2002 World Cup (as champions), but aside from that they have played 46 qualifiers in five campaigns since, winning 30, drawing 14 and losing just two. Only one was at home, to Russia in 1999. The other was away, to Scotland, last October.

Before the Scots take too much solace from that, it should also be remembered that France tend to score a lot (97 goals in those 46 games) and concede few (18 in 46). In their last 21 qualifiers they have shipped just four goals. And in their last 10 matches, including friendlies, France have kept eight clean sheets, won seven of those games, and lost just twice, 1-0 defeats to Argentina, in February, and to the Scots.

Scotland will welcome back their captain, Barry Ferguson, who was suspended for the 3-1 win over Lithuania on Saturday that saw them climb to second in Group B. He is certain to start, probably in a 4-5-1 formation intent on stifling and counter-attack. The coach Andy Watson said: "I think that with Barry being captain and one of our key players, then all being well he should be fit and available."

Aitken added: "The key to us getting anything from the match will be every one of our players performing to their maximum. But we're capable of that."