Gordon motivated by Scotland's need to recover cutting edge

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The Independent Football

Gordon, 22, will retain his place in Scotland's side for the Group Five finale, at the minuscule Petrol Arena in Celje. But as he said yesterday, speaking at the Scots' base by the foot of a ski run where Maribor's suburbs meet the pine-covered slopes, the victory of Belarus in Glasgow last Saturday has left the match feeling meaningless.

Nor can he take any solace from visions of prolonging Hearts' unbeaten start at Celtic. A one-match suspension, incurred after he was dubiously adjudged to have brought down a Falkirk player and sent off, means Gordon misses the Scottish Premier League summit meeting.

Even a question about the reported interest of Palermo, the Sicilian Serie A club, did not alter his downbeat disposition. "If we'd had something to play for," Gordon said, "the atmosphere within the squad would have been fantastic."

The danger is that Belarus have eroded the self-belief Scotland built up in Smith's first five games after succeeding Berti Vogts. Gordon described the 1-0 defeat as "a very big thing to try to get over". The players were still "mystified" by their first-half display and "scratching our heads" as to why it took the manager to cajole them into an improvement.

For all that, he was adamant they would not lack motivation against Slovenia, whose own 1-0 loss, in Italy, ended their prospects of finishing runners-up. Three points would give fifth-placed Scotland a good chance of finishing third, as well as improving their seeding status in next January's draw for the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

Smith, for his part, greeted the B word with something between a grin and a grimace. "I've watched it again on video," he said, "and it wasn't any better." The "wait-and-see attitude" that horrified him at Hampden must be replaced by the quick passing and closing down which earned last month's 2-1 win in Norway, the successful play-off aspirants.

The former Rangers and Everton manager shrugged off criticism of his 4-1-4-1 formation, arguing that it was Scotland's approach, not the system, which was flawed. However, in a line-up captained by Christian Dailly in the absence of the suspended Barry Ferguson, he may revert to the 3-5-1-1 that worked so well in Oslo.

Andy Webster, perhaps mistakenly omitted on Saturday, should return at the back, with Nigel Quashie replacing Ferguson in midfield and James McFadden coming in to play off Kenny Miller.

Slovenia's coach, Branko Oblak, will select from players drawn from clubs in 14 countries, including Milenko Acimovic, formerly of Tottenham.

Slovenia (4-4-1-1; probable): Handanovic (Udinese); M Mavric (Molde), Knavs (Salzburg), Cesar (Marseilles), Filekovic (Mouscron); Komac (Maritimo), Pokorn (Terek), Zlogar (Enosis Neon Paralimni), Ceh (Austria Vienna); Acimovic (Lille); Rodic (Kayserispor).

Scotland (3-5-1-1; probable): Gordon (Hearts); Webster (Hearts), Weir (Everton), Pressley (Hearts); Dailly (West Ham), Hartley (Hearts), Fletcher (Manchester United), Quashie (Southampton), Alexander (Preston); McFadden (Everton); K Miller (Wolves).

Referee: R Temmink (Netherlands).

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