Smith rallying cry for Scotland's must-win game

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Moldova may rank alongside Burkina Faso and Belize among the global game's lesser-known quantities, but they are figuring prominently, if unwittingly, in Scotland's quest to re-invent themselves and seize their outside chance of qualifying for next year's World Cup finals.

Moldova may rank alongside Burkina Faso and Belize among the global game's lesser-known quantities, but they are figuring prominently, if unwittingly, in Scotland's quest to re-invent themselves and seize their outside chance of qualifying for next year's World Cup finals.

The Moldovan capital, Chisinau, was the setting for the draw which ended Berti Vogts' sojourn with the Scots last autumn. Today, the former Soviet republic visit Hampden Park for Walter Smith's first home match - and the former Rangers and Everton manager is happy to place the Group Five contest in the "must-win" category.

Vogts' battered credibility all but disintegrated in October when he used that term to define the fixture with Norway and then claimed it was no such thing after a 1-0 loss in Glasgow. "We've got to win this one," Smith said yesterday, aware that a further victory, over Belarus in Minsk next Wednesday, might resuscitate a moribund campaign.

Smith's preparations have been undermined by a problem as old as the Trossachs, which formed a backdrop as he met the media by the banks of Loch Lomond. Three of his favoured starting XI, Rab Douglas, Gary Naysmith and Nigel Quashie, are absent due to injury. Gary Caldwell is suspended.

However, Smith can call on the playmaking talent of Darren Fletcher, who has had a hamstring strain. He can also utilise the experience and versatility of Christian Dailly.

Smith's first match ended in an honourable 2-0 defeat against the group leaders, Italy. "We need continuity and progression from that game," he said. "We've shown we can play away to one of the best teams and even be the better side in the second half.

"This is a different affair. We're up against what will probably be a very defensive set-up. We must be solid and get a good amount of possession to keep the pressure on, while not giving Moldova opportunities to catch us on the break."

Scotland will not face a single player based in Moldova. All 18 members of Victor Pasulko's squad ply their trade in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Russia or Ukraine.

Despite the dearth of "names" in the opposition, 44,000 tickets had been sold by last night. "Our support has been fantastic, even when there was pessimism surrounding the team in the past few years," said Smith. "Now we've got to give them something to shout about."

Scotland (3-5-2; probable): Gordon (Hearts); Webster, Pressley (both Hearts), Weir (Everton); Alexander (Preston), Hartley (Hearts), Ferguson (Rangers), Fletcher (Manchester United), McNamara (Celtic); K Miller (Wolves), McCulloch (Wigan).

Moldova (4-4-2; probable): Hmaruc (CSKA Sofia); Savinov (Zakarpattia Uzhgorod), Lascencov (Metallist Kharkov), Olexici (Amkar Perm), Catinsus (Tom Tomsk); Priganiuc (FC Khimki), Covaliciuc (Spartak Moscow), Ivanov (FK Moscow), Boret (Groclin Dyskobolia); Rogaciov (Saturn Ramenskoye), Dadu (Alania Vladikavkaz).

Referee: F Braamhaar (Netherlands).

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