Revitalised Scots set for 'one last push'

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The Independent Football

Even if Scotland did beat the favourites to finish second, it would take two more "last" pushes and improbable results elsewhere to put them in the play-offs for a place in the World Cup finals. Defeat would confirm what has appeared a foregone conclusion since the campaign started so doomily under Berti Vogts. Yet that fact, according to Ferguson, has had the desired effect of concentrating minds.

"We've got to win here. Three points. A draw's no use. Simple as that," said the Rangers midfielder, proceeding to explain why a team that lost to Norway at home had become revitalised by Walter Smith's appointment as manager. "Before, we would maybe go away and try to get a draw, but Walter wants to win these games."

Smith's tactical acumen, and the buoyant mood he has generated, have made his Scotland side resemble the improved part of a before-and-after advert after just five matches. One thing he has in common with Vogts, however, is limited attacking options.

The unavailability of Lee McCulloch and Garry O'Connor deprives him of two potential sources of support for Kenny Miller, who will not, surely, be asked to forage alone in such an all-or-nothing game. James McFadden's goal ratio of seven in 21 caps make him seem the obvious partner, but Smith's preference for forwards who track back and work their markers may lead him to use Paul Hartley off the front or trust in the raw Craig Beattie, of Celtic, rather than the Everton maverick.

A hip problem has prevented Nigel Quashie training here. Smith, keen to maintain the central unit that performed so creditably against Italy, will allow him a late fitness test. He may switch to the 3-5-2 formation he deployed in last month's draw in the friendly in Austria and forego an obvious holding midfielder. "We've got excellent players in the middle of the park," reflected the former Everton and Rangers manager. "We have to find ways of getting them into other [forward] areas."

While Smith seeks to balance durability and creativity, his Norwegian counterpart has been counting the cost of the 3-2 win in Slovenia. Aage Hareide, the former Manchester City player, has lost three first-choices to suspension, while Steffen Iversen, once of Tottenham, is doubtful with a back strain. Egil Ostenstad, top scorer in Norway after stints in England and Scotland, stands by. John Arne Riise returns after a ban.

Ferguson predicts an unchanged Norway in one sense. "They're always big, physical and hard to break down," he said. "We saw the video of the game in Slovenia, and it was still all long balls from the back to [John] Carew up front. There's never an easy game against them, but we're confident. And if we can get the win, you never know."

NORWAY (4-2-3-1; probable): Myhre (Charlton); Solli (Rosenborg), Lundekvam (Southampton), Riseth (Rosenborg), Bergdolmo (FC Copenhagen); Andresen (Bran Bergen), Grindheim (Valerenga); Valencia (Start), Iversen (Valerenga), Riise (Liverpool); Carew (Lyon).

SCOTLAND (3-5-1-1; probable): Gordon (Hearts); Weir (Everton), Pressley, Webster (both Hearts); Alexander (Preston), Fletcher (Manchester United), Ferguson (Rangers), Quashie (Southampton), McNamara (Wolves); Hartley (Hearts); K Miller (Wolves).

Referee: A Hamer (Luxembourg).

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