Fletcher aims to avoid 'disaster' on his big night
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Tuesday 07 September 2010
Darren Fletcher will lead Scotland out at Hampden Park this evening to collect his 50th cap and earn the accompanying place in his country's hall of fame. But if he leads the side off 90 minutes later without three points then he and his team-mates will be ushered straight into Scotland's hall of infamy, a chamber of horrors occupied by memories of the likes of Iran, Costa Rica and the Faroe Islands.
After a goalless draw in Lithuania in their opening European Championship qualifier, and games against Spain and the Czech Republic to come, three points against Liechtenstein are an absolute must tonight and Fletcher acknowledges that anything else would be "disastrous".
"With respect for qualifying for the Euros, then there can be no slip-ups," said Fletcher, who reaches his landmark accompanied by a message of congratulation from his fellow Scot and club manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. "If we can get three points [against Liechtenstein] and then four points from the two games, then it's a satisfactory start and it's not too bad a position from then on.
"We've got games coming up against Czech Republic and Spain, so that's why it's imperative against Liechtenstein to get three points. Anything other than that is disastrous towards qualifying."
It would also be a huge embarrassment – even by the occasionally shambolic standards of the men in blue – for a country who have endured some bleak times of late. Scotland's clubs have tumbled out of European competition at an alarming rate with the season barely begun and Friday's failure to win in Kaunas was another blow, even if the performance was a notable improvement on the previous outing in Sweden, a chaotic 3-0 defeat last month.
It was eight years ago that the Scots, under the ill-fated guidance of Berti Vogts, scrambled a 2-2 draw with the Faroe Islands and anything similar would leave Craig Levein's tenure in equally dire straits. The Scotland manager has instructed his side to follow Spain's lead against the Group I makeweights. They may not be able to match the world champions in terms of ability but Levein sees no reason why Scotland should not match the work-rate that contributed to a 4-0 victory on Friday.
Levein said: "I watched a DVD of Spain playing against Liechtenstein and every player in that Spanish team works their socks off. Everybody looks at them and thinks they are a fantastic football team and that's all they do but they work just as hard, or harder, than most teams.
"It's no coincidence they are European and world champions. If it's good enough for them, then it's certainly good enough for us. That is the first, and most important thing, about a team, how it works together and how they work for each other."
Levein is waiting on the fitness of the Rangers full-back Steven Whittaker before settling on his XI, with James McFadden, his most creative player, likely to be given a starting role against a side that will pack their defence in the first meeting between the countries.
Peter Jehle, who as the visitors' goalkeeper has had one of the least enviable jobs in the game for the last 12 years, described playing at Hampden Park as an "honour" and a "dream". Scotland will be hoping, with just a hint of desperation, he has little time to savour his first experience of the old ground.
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