Levein plays down pressure with goal of keeping advantage in Prague
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.
Friday 08 October 2010
Having required 96 minutes to deal with Liechtenstein, ranked 141st in the world, Scotland do not embark on their two games in the next five days accompanied by a sense of optimism, certainly not with Spain, standing a mere 140 places higher than the last visitors to Hampden, heading for Glasgow next week.
First, though, it is the Czech Republic in Prague tonight and, for all the deserved opprobrium directed at Craig Levein's team for their struggle against Liechtenstein and the preceding goalless draw with Lithuania, there is reason to believe that reaching the play-offs for Euro 2012, and so raising the prospect of a first finals since the 1998 World Cup, remains a realistic goal.
The Czechs suffered an embarrassment of their own in their opening game, but unlike Scotland they could not salvage anything, losing 1-0 to Lithuania, with Milan Baros missing a penalty. It leaves Scotland with a four-point advantage over the Czechs, their likeliest challengers for the runner-up spot, and avoiding defeat tonight would leave them in a position of some promise, regardless of what happens against Spain next week.
"If the Czech Republic don't take three points from this game, they will be in a very difficult position," Levein said yesterday. "This is a game that we don't need to win but the Czech Republic must win. The pressure, for me, is not on Scotland's players, it's on the Czech Republic."
The Scotland manager is ready to abandon the 4-5-1 formation he favoured in Lithuania – one that denied the home side any clear-cut chances but did nothing for Scotland's own creativity – and play two strikers. Kenny Miller, the Rangers front-runner who has scored 10 times already this season as well as the equaliser against Liechtenstein, would be the obvious choice, but Levein has been considering casting a new pairing in Steven Naismith and Jamie Mackie, the latest naturalised Scot. The QPR striker has taken a roundabout route through the lower leagues towards representing his grandfather's country, having played for MK Dons, Exeter and Plymouth but has scored eight times in his new side's flying start to the season.
Brian Flynn will begin his audition for the Wales job in Cardiff tonight with a game his side need to win if they are to have a chance of catching England at the top of Group G. The opening defeat by Montenegro ended John Toshack's tenure and Flynn has been given the game against Bulgaria and the trip to play Switzerland in Basle on Tuesday to put his case for the job.
Another manager under pressure to produce a prompt result is Russia's Dick Advocaat, whose team face Ireland in Dublin. The Irish have begun well with two wins and two more against Russia and Slovakia, who have already beaten Advocaat's men, would install them as strong favourites to win their group. North of the border, Northern Ireland host Italy looking to build on their opening win in Slovenia against a visiting side being refashioned by Cesare Prandelli.
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