Smith's men hope to have no reason to curse Faroes

Click to follow
The Independent Football

If England think they have the tiniest minnows in Europe to face today they would be wrong, at least on the basis of competitive international results in the past two major qualifying tournaments. The Faroe Islands - Scotland's opponents this afternoon at Celtic Park as they get their Euro 2008 "group of death" campaign under way - make Andorra's record in recent times look fantastic.

Andorra earned five points from 2006 World Cup qualifying. The Faroes mustered one, and one in their Euro 2004 campaign, for a grand total of two in their past 23 matches that matter.

With such a woeful record, not to mention a recent 6-0 home drubbing by Georgia on their minds, today's visitors in Glasgow should prove cannon fodder for a Scottish team confident they are on the verge of a bright new era. But such complacency is precisely what the Scotland manager, Walter Smith, argued yesterday cannot be allowed. Not least, he said, because Scotland were humiliated by drawing 2-2 in the Faroe Islands four years ago this week.

"The Faroes have pride like anybody competing in football," said Smith. "You do not go anywhere to lose a game. The Faroe Islands are a small nation and will not accept what happened against Georgia. They will make it difficult for a lot of teams and have made it difficult for teams of a much higher standard than us.

"Germany have struggled to beat them in the past so that defeat against Georgia would have hurt them. The Faroes have shown they can cause difficulties to a lot of countries, but we have to show we are on top of our game."

An attacking 4-3-3 line-up is expected, with Celtic's Kenny Miller and Everton's James McFadden playing either side of Rangers' Kris Boyd in a three-man forward line.

"The onus is on us to attack and win the game and the team reflection will reflect that," Smith said.

With Italy, France, Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania (next up, on Wednesday) lying in wait, a good start is essential for Scotland to retain the hope that they might be contenders to reach the main event in 2008.

Arguably the only way is up, now that Smith's regime has bedded in and turned a corner that was more a cul-de-sac under Berti Vogts. There is no better barometer of the change than Everton's David Weir, who gave up international football after falling out with Vogts in the wake of the 2-2 embarrassment in Toftir.

But Weir, 36, is now well and truly back in the fold, and will captain his country today as he earns his 49th cap. Kirin Cup success in Japan in the summer, where Bulgaria were thrashed 5-1, is only one of the reasons Weir feels Scotland's fortunes are changing. "Walter has done a great job in taking the pressure off the players and dealing with that side of things," he said. "He has made it easier for us."

Probable line-ups:

Scotland (4-3-3): Gordon (Hearts); Alexander (Preston), Weir (Everton), Pressley (Hearts), Naysmith (Everton); Fletcher (Manchester United), Hartley (Hearts), Quashie (West Bromwich); Miller (Celtic), Boyd (Rangers), McFadden (Everton).

Faroe Islands (4-4-2): Mikkelsen (B36 Tórshavn); Joensen (HB Tórshavn); Danielsen (KÍ Klaksvík), Johannesen (TB Tvøroyri), Borg (HB Tórshavn); Di Benjaminsen (B36 Tórshavn), Johnsson (B68 Toftir), Jorgensen (Blackpool), Nielsen (HB Tórshavn); Samuelsen (Keflavík), C Jacobsen (NSÍ Runavík).