Fletcher return allows Levein to make light of the pressure


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The Independent Football

Craig Levein is not weighed down by the pressure he will be under as Scotland host the Czech Republic at Hampden Park this afternoon. Scotland must win, and win again against Lithuania on Tuesday if they are to finish second in Group I and enter the qualification play-offs.

As they lie five points behind the Czechs, though with one game in hand, much rests on today's match.

Neither the importance of the occasion, nor the 52,000 sell-out crowd at Hampden worries the Scotland manager, though. Rather, he is excited by it.

"More than anything I am looking forward to walking out on the pitch at Hampden tomorrow," Levein said, "in front of a full house with the hopes and expectations of the Scottish people placed firmly on the shoulders of myself and the rest of the group.

"I can tell you that I am absolutely comfortable with those expectations and the players are absolutely ready to reward the Scottish fans for their support. We have Hampden full but we have people sitting at home who are glued to the television who are desperate for the national team to perform and win matches.

"If you want to play or manage at the top level then these are the expectations that you want to embrace. I can tell you every player involved in the squad is desperate to play. We will do absolutely everything in our power to win this match. I know how to prepare for matches and I recognise when teams are ready to play. And we are ready to play."

Levein was criticised after going to the reverse fixture with an ultra-defensive approach, playing without any strikers and losing 1-0. While he will play a forward this afternoon, Levein insisted that he was right to do what he did in Prague. "It was straightforward," he said yesterday. "It was the right decision to make and I will make decisions about tomorrow's team based on what I believe is the right thing to do. I always look at myself first and foremost after every match and see where thing have gone well and where things have not gone well."

Today, Kenny Miller will start up front, while Christophe Berra has been chosen ahead of Danny Wilson as Gary Caldwell's centre-back partner. Most importantly, though, captain Darren Fletcher returns to the team, having only played two competitive games since March due to a virus.

Fletcher admitted to his frustration with his surprise loss of fitness. "The biggest thing was the loss of weight," he said. "I am not the type of person who can afford to lose weight. The hardest thing was coming back to feeling physically strong enough to play and it took a long time to get back to that level."

Despite a lack of match practice, Fletcher insisted that his inclusion was not a risk. "Not at all because of the experience I have at this level," he said. "I have 53 caps so I know what to expect at this level. I'm the captain – I feel I bring a lot to the team in terms of communication. I feel as fit as I ever have, I feel strong. Players have had one or two more matches than me but I don't believe that's a problem."

"I feel as fit as I have done in more than a year. I've had a fantastic pre-season, it was more of a personal pre-season. I worked very hard and I've come through both reserve games without a problem."

Levein was delighted to have his captain back. "I have been assured by him and his club he is 100 per cent," said the manager. "On the evidence of training this week I can tell you that's true. He has not played for a while. But he has the experience. Is he going to be fazed by playing a game at this level? Certainly not. So for me it's an easy decision."

Group I Details

Scotland results so far

Lithuania 0-0 Scotland, Scotland 2-1 Liechtenstein, Czech Republic 1-0 Scotland, Scotland 2-3 Spain

Scotland remaining fixtures

Today Czech Republic (h); Tues Lithuania (h); 8 Oct Liechtenstein (a); 11 Oct Spain (a)