Scotland must get back to winning ways, says Smith

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The Independent Online

Five consecutive World Cup finals appearances, consistency at a high level, and players who command respect at major clubs in Europe. That sums up Scotland's past and the USA's present as the sides prepare to meet in this afternoon's friendly at Hampden.

For the visitors, ranked No 7 in the world, the match is a first shot at European opposition since qualifying for next summer's World Cup, their fifth consecutive finals since 1990.

For Scotland, back up to No 62 in the world after falling to No 88 earlier this year, it is the next step in Walter Smith's rebuilding campaign, the aim being to make his nation contenders again to reach major events. Since appearing at five World Cups between 1974 and 1990, they have missed out three times since. Smith's main task, as he outlined yesterday, is gelling a competitive squad from players with vital experience on the one hand, and youngsters with little on the other, but not at the expense of results, even in friendlies.

"The result is very important," he said. "You need to be in a winning environment.We have to make sure we've got a steady formation to start with, but also give the young players a chance. And I have to try to achieve that balance over just two games."

The only two matches Scotland have scheduled in the next six months are today's and a game against as yet unnamed opponents in March. Smith will, therefore, field a relatively seasoned side, although Hibernian's Garry O'Connor, 22, will begin up front. Smith may also decide to start with the winger Neil McCann, probably as a withdrawn striker.

Three of O'Connor's team-mates, defender Gary Caldwell, 23, midfielder Scott Brown, 20, and striker Derek O'Riordan, 22, and Celtic's Shaun Maloney, 22. may be used as substitutes. Brown is uncapped, while O'Riordan and Maloney have one cap each.

Everton's James McFadden will not be start after Smith told him he already knew what he was capable of and had to look at other players. "The manager's explained and I am not happy, but I have accepted it." McFadden said.

Smith predicts the USA will become "a force in world football" within 10 years, and thinks they will be tough opponents today. "They were unlucky not to reach the semi-finals last time. They used something like 42 players in qualifying this time and all of them will think they've got a right to go to Germany. They'll be playing for their places."

SCOTLAND (3-5-1-1): Gordon (Hearts); Pressley (Hearts), Weir (Everton), Webster (Hearts); Alexander (Preston), Fletcher (Manchester United), Hartley (Hearts), Quashie (Southampton), Dailly (West Ham); McCann (Southampton); O'Connor (Hibernian).

USA (possible, 4-4-2): Keller (Borussia Mönchengladbach); Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Berhalter (Energie Cottbus), Bocanegra (Fulham), Spector (Charlton Athletic); Quaranta (D.C. United), Olsen (DC United), Zavagnin (Kansas City Wizards), Beasley (PSV Eindhoven); Wolff (Kansas City Wizards); Ching (San Jose Earthquakes).

Referee: A Undiano Mallenco (Spain).