Smith looks to attack as Scots chase vital victory

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Scotland have to beat Belarus and win in Slovenia next Wednesday to keep alive their hopes of reaching the finals. They may still need help from Moldova, who visit second-placed Norway tonight, or this afternoon's opponents, who receive the Norwegians in midweek. Such circumstances, according to Smith, demand a rethink, as much in terms of the Scots' mentality as in their tactical approach.

In June, when Scotland drew 0-0 with Belarus in Minsk, Smith's priority was to avoid defeat. "We're looking at a different type of game altogether this time," the former Rangers and Everton manager said. "In Italy, Belarus and Norway, we set our stall out defensively. But we know we face a change in these next two matches - because we have to win.

"I feel we've achieved progress in taking the game to sides, but we can't just change entirely overnight. That would be daft. We have to stick roughly to what we've been doing, but be comfortable when we're expected to apply pressure and try to create more chances."

Dominating teams has proved a problem for Scotland. During Berti Vogts' tenure they often started slowly and relinquished the initiative. The new regime has effected an improvement, but six goals in eight group games tells its own story.

It is not in Smith's pragmatic nature to go for a gung-ho attacking style, so the formation should be similar to the 4-1-4-1 system that prevailed in Oslo last month. However, the suspension of James McFadden leaves a vacancy on the left of midfield, which the manager may be tempted to fill with the power and aerial ability of the Wigan striker Lee McCulloch rather than the passing craft of Southampton's Nigel Quashie.

Jackie McNamara's injury opens the way for Rangers' Ian Murray at left-back, with Christian Dailly poised to replace Andy Webster and take up a role protecting the back line. To Dailly may fall the task of picking up Alexander Hleb, Arsenal's summer recruit from the Bundesliga, a player Smith hailed as "a terrific talent - one of the best forwards in the group apart from the Italians".

Hleb's presence, and, paradoxically, the knowledge that Belarus are depleted by suspension, withdrawals and the redeployment of two players to help their Under-21s secure qualification, contributed to Smith's guarded manner. "We have to be careful that in trying to win, we don't leave them with a better opportunity to do so," he said.

"The situation their coach [Anatoly Baidachny] faces isn't ideal, but it's a chance for other players to come in and they'll want to make the most of it. His selection problems also make it more difficult for us in that it's very difficult to judge who - and how - they will play."

Smith's captain, Barry Ferguson, saw a precedent for Scotland in the denouement of last season's Scottish title race. His club, Rangers, had to win and "hope something happened elsewhere", which it did, Motherwell shocking Celtic. "Stranger things have happened," he grinned. For Smith, however, such talk is a distraction. Was it an advantage that Norway kick off later? "It doesn't matter if they start at midnight," he said. "It's fairly straightforward: we have to win."

SCOTLAND (4-1-4-1; probable): Gordon (Hearts); Alexander (Preston), Pressley (Hearts), Weir (Everton), Murray (Rangers); Dailly (West Ham); Hartley (Hearts), Fletcher (Manchester United), Ferguson (Rangers), McCulloch (Wigan); K Miller (Wolves).

BELARUS (4-4-2; probable): Zhevnov (FK Moscow); Tarlovsky (Fakel Voronezh), Ostrovsky (Chornomorets Odessa), Kovba (Krylya Sovetov Samara), Lavrik (Amkar Perm); Hleb (Arsenal), Kulchy (Tom Tomsk), Korytko (Terek Grozny), Kalachyov (Khimki); Kutuzov (Sampdoria), Bulyads (Krylya Sovetov Samara).

Referee: Z Szabo (Hungary).

Kick-off: 3.0. (Sky Sports 1 from 2.15).