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Sons View Special

September 1, 2011

AHEAD of Scotland’s do-or-die clash with the Czech Republic tomorrow, here’s a special edition of Lennox Herald sports reporter Andy Galloway’s regular Sons View column.

JUDGEMENT Day is nearly here.

The game by which Scotland’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign lives or dies. The Czech Republic’s visit to Hampden Park, which is the national team’s biggest fixture since the winner-takes-all Euro 2008 decider against Italy four years ago. And the nation holds its breath for better fortune than we had in that game against the Azzurri.

Win tomorrow and for Craig Levein’s men, it’s all about keeping the nerve and the right attitude in the next two games, at home to Lithuania on Tuesday and in Liechtenstein next month. With the greatest respect, neither is a game where Scotland will have any excuse for dropping points. Then, if Spain are victorious against the Czechs in Prague, our trip to Alicante to play the world champions is meaningless – second place is ours.

Any other result and our campaign falls off the knife edge it currently rests on. But who wants to think about that? Especially when you look at the two squads and think that in some ways, this is a game to treat the same as the aforementioned two against Lithuania and Liechtenstein? Should we regard ourselves as the favourites to win this one as well, at a time when it’s win or bust?

Not to think we’ve a God-given right to victory – that would be disastrous. However, at what point does confidence become realism? And while we’ve accused England’s media of maybe having over-confidence in the past, maybe we should be confident tomorrow? Because if we had a dream scenario to find ourselves in ahead of tomorrow’s crunch, what we’ve got isn’t far short of it.

Monday evening’s news that Steven Naismith is fit must have come as a huge relief to most, if not all, of the Tartan Army. With his progress since the start of last season, he has to be one of the first names on the team sheet. And while SPL sides are hardly directly comparable to the Czech Republic national team, he’s done virtually all that can be asked of him in terms of goalscoring so far this season. He’s hit four in five domestic fixtures and regardless of Rangers’ performance in Europe, that’s the form you want your forwards to be in.

Darren Fletcher takes criticism from some quarters for his displays in a Scotland jersey. However, when it’s the big occasion, he rises to it. Take the Spain game for example, when he was one of the best players on the park. Remember the through ball he played for James Morrison to cross and Gerard Pique to put into his own net? More of that needed from the skipper tomorrow.

We’ve also got many players in our ranks who can turn a game round at a moment’s notice. It’s not true to say that Charlie Adam kept up Blackpool’s ultimately unsuccessful fight against the drop single-handedly. A perfectly fair assertion, though, is that had it not been for him, the Seasiders would have struggled a lot harder – there is a difference. Why else would Liverpool pay £7million for him? Throw in others like Morrison and Kenny Miller – surely the lone striker tomorrow – and we have a side full of potential match winners.

In the opposition corner, the Czech Republic have a capable side. However, they’re not as heavily-furnished with world class talent as they have been in the past – and they’re weakened even further by the absence through injury of Chelsea keeper Petr Cech. Of the three goalies they have named, two are uncapped at full international level while the other has represented his country only four times. In the intimidating atmosphere of Hampden Park, any player with little experience has a far more limited chance to thrive.

So tomorrow, we must play to our strengths. Levein has to use our potential match winners to do maximum damage. Our campaign is at the point of no return now – three points tomorrow, and in the next two games or it’s done. In that respect, against the Czechs we must look to make a game of it and leave ourselves with nothing to regret afterwards.

The Tartan Army have their usual role to play as well. Make Hampden Park bounce if you’re going. If you’re not, come to a standstill with the rest of the country. Just like
against Italy.

And if those two come together, we can get a better outcome than we did that day.

Check back on Sunday evening for a post-match column.

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