Scotland are under no illusions that just because they lead their Euro 2008 qualifying group it will be simple to progress. That fact was underlined yesterday when Oleg Blokhin, the manager of Saturday's opponents, Ukraine, said he would quit if his side did not make it.
Ukraine lie fourth in Group B, apparently well off the pace with 13 points behind France (19), Italy (20) and leaders Scotland (21). But last year's World Cup quarter-finalists have a game in hand on that trio and can still qualify as long as they win their four remaining games and other results go their way.
"If we do not fulfil this job ahead of us, I will resign," Blokhin said, an unequivocal statement that suggests the assumption he will blood youngsters for experience from now on – because his cause is hopeless – is premature. After Scotland at Hampden Blokhin's side face the Faroe Islands at home, Lithuania away and France, at home.
Scotland's manager, Alex McLeish, said yesterday: "I believe they will think they have an outside chance if they win all their games which would also mean them beating France. They have nothing to lose coming to Hampden and that can make them more dangerous."
Scotland know seven points from their three remaining games – against Ukraine, then in Georgia next Wednesday and at home against Italy on 17 November – will see them through, successfully completing the toughest campaign for any finals in their history.
McLeish was among many in the Scotland camp, however, who was quick to deny that Andrei Shevchenko is not the threat he once was just because of his problems at Chelsea. "I know he has maybe not been playing as well as he could in the Premier League but he is still a free spirit when he plays for Ukraine." On the positive side, with a double success over the World Cup runners-up France under their belts, confidence is high. "There is no reason that we can't beat Ukraine," McLeish said.
It had been assumed that Scotland would certainly be without the Celtic midfielder Paul Hartley and defender Gary Caldwell for the next two games but McLeish said yesterday that Caldwell still has an outside chance of featuring.
As things stand, a four-man backline of Alan Hutton, David Weir, Stephen McManus and the fit-again Gary Naysmith will start, with Craig Gordon in goal. Barry Ferguson, Scott Brown and Lee McCulloch are certain starters in midfield, with a possible berth there for Everton's James McFadden, scorer of the wonderstrike winner in Paris.
The most likely pairing up front would appear to be Birmingham's Garry O'Connor alongside Kenny Miller, who has refound his scoring touch since his recent move to Derby. Regular football, as opposed to cameos at Celtic, should increase Miller's chances.Reuse content