SCOTLAND’S WORLD CUP COUNTDOWN
Scotland: Strachan says relax as vital double-header looms for his Dark Blues
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