Scotland's hopes of a play-off place in World Cup qualifying are not dead, yet, although anything but a win against Macedonia at Hampden Park this afternoon will kill them off. George Burley's side lie third in Group 9 this morning, behind the leaders (the Netherlands, on 21 points and already through) and Macedonia (on seven points, the same as Scotland).
The Scots have two game left, today's and then at home to the Dutch on Wednesday. Six points would guarantee second spot in the section, and probably be enough to finish among the eight (of nine) second-place teams who will go to the play-offs.
Four points might be enough, but that's far from certain. If it proved sufficient it would be a blessing after a slipshod campaign littered with poor results, controversy (the "boozegate" scandal cost the former captain, Barry Ferguson, his international career) and rare bright spots.
Burley has had a rough ride personally, derided for a lack of tub-thumping charisma that has been all too easy to ridicule when performances have been as wet as the average Glasgow weekend. Yet he insisted yesterday that Scotland will win today because his side, for all their shortcomings, are the "better team."
Asked why he can be so confident inspire of results like the 4-0 hammering by Norway in Oslo last time out, he said: "I feel we've got a better team [than Macedonia]. But we've got to show that. We have players in good form and we have a positive outlook.
"People say we would beat them [Macedonia] easy but they are a good side. The group is competitive, Norway are no mugs and we always knew it was going to be a tight group as far as finishing second was concerned.
"But we've certainly done our homework. We have had a good week's training, the boys are raring to go and we are in positive mood to get three points."
Stephen McManus has not played a minute for his club side Celtic this season because of injury but will partner David Weir in defence. Scott Brown and Darren Fletcher are certainties in midfield but the striking options are varied: Kenny Miller, James McFadden, Garry O'Connor and Steven Fletcher will probably vie for two starting spots.
Burley's assistant, Terry Butcher, says today's game "means as much to me now as any game I ever played in - just as much as a World Cup semi-final." The Tartan Army, without a major event to attend since France 98, would add: "With knobs on, for us."
The main Macedonian threat will be Lazio's Goran Pandev, who has scored 17 goals in 47 appearances. Pandev's side know they too can still grab second place, not something that helps Scotland.
Scotland (4-4-2, possible): Gordon (Sunderland); Hutton (Tottenham), Weir (Rangers), McManus (Celtic), Whittaker (Rangers); Commons (Derby), Fletcher (Man Utd), Brown (Celtic), Maloney (Celtic); McFadden (Birmingham), Miller (Rangers).
Macedonia (4-3-3, possible): Nikolovski; Sedloski, Popov, Mitreski, Lazarevski; Georgievski, Despotovski, Sumulikoski; Stojkov, Pandev, Naumoski.
Referee: W Stark (Germany).Reuse content