Scots safe in Gordon's hands

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The Independent Football

Scotland's slim hopes of reaching the World Cup would be gone already without Craig Gordon, who made a string of match-winning saves in last weekend's 2-0 win over Macedonia, so the Tartan Army will fervently hope that the Sunderland goalkeeper passes a late fitness test on a thigh strain and can face the Netherlands at Hampden this evening.

"He came through Saturday with no problem but he's had a reaction and we will assess him tomorrow," said his national manager, George Burley, yesterday. "You want all your key players to be available."

Burley added that if Gordon is unfit, a replacement will be found from "a very good squad", but he is all too aware that the most likely deputy, David Marshall, has shipped 11 goals in his three games, including four in Norway last month.

The Dutch have won all seven of their Group Nine qualifiers to guarantee top spot and insist they want to make it eight from eight. "Every game is important," said Frank de Boer, their assistant coach, a view echoed by Dirk Kuyt, who should be part of a strong XI, even if Wesley Sneijder fails to recover from injury.

Celtic's Dutch centre-half Glenn Loovens echoed "we want to win", adding of his club-mates: "They've been asking us to slow down but it's not going to happen."

Several of the Dutch camp have affiliations to the Scottish game, including the former Rangers defender, De Boer, who said: "We're not going to help them but if I could choose, I hope Scotland will go through to the play-offs."



In theory, Scotland could lose and still reach the play-offs, or win and not.

They could guarantee a spot as early as tonight, via a win combined with no more than a draw for Northern Ireland, who are at home to Slovakia and a draw for Slovenia and Poland (all in Group Three).

A win for Burley's men without other immediately favourable results would still give them a chance, while a point or none would leave qualification merely mathematically possible.

Burley talked yesterday of an occasion that "doesn't come any bigger", saying Scotland need to be "strong, determined and play to the best of our ability with passion and commitment".

He also needs the right combination of caution and flair, which could see Gary Caldwell return from suspension in a holding role, and the suspended James McFadden replaced by the winger-cum-forward Shaun Maloney.

Scotland (4-1-3-2, possible): Gordon (Sunderland); Hutton (Tottenham), Weir (Rangers), McManus (Celtic), Whittaker (Rangers); Caldwell (Celtic); Brown (Celtic), D Fletcher (Man Utd), Maloney (Celtic); Miller (Rangers), S Fletcher (Burnley).

Netherlands (4-2-3-1, possible): Vorm (Utrecht); Van der Weil (Ajax), Loovens (Celtic), Mathijsen (Hamburg), Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord); Da Silva (AZ), De Jong (Man City); Kuyt (Liverpool), Van Persie (Arsenal), Robben (Bayern Munich); Huntelaar (Milan).

Referee: C B Larsen (Denmark).

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