Vogts aims to survive with siege mentality

Berti Vogts pondered the unfairness of life yesterday, bemoaning press intrusion into his personal affairs - to a press conference. But rather than being rattled or on the brink of resignation, Vogts helped to fuel a mood of defiant unity among Scotland's players as they hit the World Cup qualifying trail against Slovenia at Hampden Park tonight.

Berti Vogts pondered the unfairness of life yesterday, bemoaning press intrusion into his personal affairs - to a press conference. But rather than being rattled or on the brink of resignation, Vogts helped to fuel a mood of defiant unity among Scotland's players as they hit the World Cup qualifying trail against Slovenia at Hampden Park tonight.

Every member of Scotland's squad who has been asked about Vogts since last month's 3-0 home defeat by Hungary expressed anger; he is seen as a decent man being hounded out of a difficult position. They admire the way he has "shielded" them from criticism and are dismayed by reports that the Scottish FA may terminate the manager's contract if the Slovenia game goes badly.

"It's better the pressure is on me than on my boys. I can live with it. It's my job," Vogts said at the Scots' sun-dappled training camp in Ayr. "But," he added, "some of the stuff that happens here is not fair. You go out for dinner, and when you've left, a journalist goes in and asks how many drinks you had. Is that right?"

Sir Alex Ferguson has always striven to create the feeling among his charges at Aberdeen and Manchester United that the world was against them. Whether or not Vogts has a similar strategy, the effect is certainly comparable. A flinty resolve not to let him down again was evident in Spain on Friday, where Scotland were good value for a 1-1 scoreline when the warm-up fixture was abandoned.

Vogts, who has yet to preside over a home defeat in a competitive match with Scotland, said he felt "very, very confident" about the match. "Now all the friendlies are over and the World Cup qualifiers were always my target."

Nevertheless, he cautioned that Slovenia were "significantly better" than Hungary. Fifa's world rankings list the tiny former Yugoslav republic - where the national sport is skiing - in 46th place, 21 above Scotland and 30 ahead of the Hungarians. "Don't under-estimate them," said the former Germany coach. "They qualified for Euro 2000 and the last World Cup, while Croatia beat them only 1-0 in the play-offs for Euro 2004."

Slovenia's squad contains players domiciled in Italy, Germany, France, Russia and Switzerland. Although their outstanding performer during the decade since independence, Zlatko Zahovic, has retired, Branko Oblak's side launched their push to reach Germany 2006 with a 3-0 victory over Moldova on Saturday. Milenko Acimovic, who is on a season-long loan to Lille after making scant impression at Tottenham last season, scored a hat-trick.

The Slovenians are aware of Vogts' problems and their possible impact on the first meeting of the countries. "Scotland's players will be trying to save their coach," said Jalen Pokorn. "Playing hard is the style of his teams. It will be even tougher now that he's under pressure."

Vogts nominated the encounter as "one of the key matches in the fight for second place". Italy, who he regards as clear favourites to win Group Five, have also started with a win, 2-1 against Norway.

Scotland's only injury doubt concerns Steven Pressley. If a back problem again forces him out, Andy Webster will keep his place alongside Malky Mackay, whose first competitive appearance this season may be his last as a Norwich City player. Coventry City hope to sign him tomorrow.

Jackie McNamara will protect Scotland's back four as the holding midfielder, while Vogts has interesting choices to make between a pair of young goalkeepers, Craig Gordon and David Marshall, and two seasoned strikers, Stevie Crawford and Paul Dickov.

Scotland (4-1-3-2; probable): Gordon (Hearts); G Caldwell (Hibernian), Webster (Hearts), Mackay (Norwich), Naysmith (Everton); McNamara (Celtic); Fletcher (Manchester United), Ferguson (Blackburn), Quashie (Portsmouth); McFadden (Everton), Dickov (Blackburn).

Slovenia (4-4-2, probable): B Mavric (Greuther Furth); Karic (Torpedo-Metallurg Moscow), M Mavric (Molde), Knavs (VfL Bochum), Biljak (Dalian Shide); Ceh (Club Bruges), Komac (Nova Gorica), Pokorn (Hapoel Nazareth Elit), Seslar (Celje); Acimovic (Lille), Dedic (Parma).

Referee: C B Larsen (Denmark).

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