SCOT­LAND’S WORLD CUP COUNT­DOWN

Strachan says re­lax as vi­tal dou­ble-header looms for his Dark Blues

The Press and Journal (Inverness) - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANDY SKIN­NER

Scot­land man­ager Gor­don Strachan has called for pa­tience ahead of what he an­tic­i­pates could be a nervy World Cup qual­i­fy­ing en­counter at home to Slo­vakia on Thurs­day night.

The Scots must win in order to keep their hopes of a World Cup qual­i­fy­ing play-off place on track, with their op­po­nents a point ahead in sec­ond place.

Slo­vakia end the group cam­paign with Sun­day’s home match against Malta, who are bot­tom of the ta­ble, mean­ing a vic­tory against Slove­nia in Ljublja- na will also nearly cer­tainly be re­quired by the Scots.

Strachan knows the na­tion’s hopes of end­ing the 20-year wait to reach a ma­jor tour­na­ment rest on Thurs­day night’s match.

Al­though he knows it might not be pleas­ing on the eye, Strachan is de­ter­mined to se­cure a mem­o­rable tri­umph against Jan Kozak’s side.

Strachan said: “I did say I al­ways thought it would be very dif­fi­cult to beat them. I saw them at the Euro­pean cham­pi­onship fi­nals last sum­mer – they have four or five top play­ers, backed by a team of good play­ers.

“They have a small squad. It’s like a club side. And they get on with it. I can nearly pick their side, most of the time, one or two ar­eas aside.

“They made life dif­fi­cult for Eng­land, who even­tu­ally won 2-1, and they’ll make it hard for us.

“I think it will be a long night, an in­ter­est­ing night, and it might even be a ner­vous night. But hope­fully, at the end of the night, we’re all happy.”

Scot­land go into the game boosted by their tri­umphant dou­ble-header last month, in which they de­feated Lithua­nia 3-0 in Vil­nius and tri­umphed 2-0 against Malta at Ham­p­den.

Strachan feels the mo­men­tum gained by win­ning the two matches will help his side’s men­tal prepa­ra­tion for this week’s dou­ble-header.

Thurs­day’s Ham­p­den en­counter against Slo­vakia is head­ing to­wards a sell­out, with more than 45,000 tick­ets al­ready sold, and Strachan added: “There are a cou­ple of sim­ple things we have tried in cer­tain po­si­tions that have helped us. These two things were set for them in the Malta and Lithua­nia games – be­cause we felt try­ing these sorts of things would work. It might be a bit dif­fer­ent against this team.

“Sometimes when there are big games com­ing up it’s easy, be­cause there’s not an ex­pec­ta­tion on us.

“When there’s ex­pec­ta­tion, it’s a dif­fer­ent ball­game when the pres­sure is on.

“I think the harder games were Lithua­nia away and Malta.

“If you don’t do any­thing there, you’re out. But we’ve got over that real ner­vous one and we’re com­ing into this rel­ish­ing it now – from the hav­ing to win, ner­vous ones.

“We still have to win but we’ve done enough to feel a bit bet­ter about our­selves.

“We have done enough to nearly get a full house, when it could have been no one. They have man­aged to do that.”

“Got over that real ner­vous one and we’re rel­ish­ing it now”

LAUGHING ALLTHE WAY TO CRU­CIAL DOU­BLE-HEADER: Gor­don Strachan sees the funny side of life along with Scot­land mid­field­ers Dar­ren Fletcher and Robert Sn­od­grass at Ham­p­den yes­ter­day

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