Zaliukas’ praise for Scotland

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Marius Zaliukas has paid Scotland a compliment – of sorts – by insisting the country he has made his home has the footballing talent to secure the play-off spot in their European Championship qualifying group. The Hearts captain, who will tonight line up for our group rivals Lithuania against Liechtenstein in Kaunas, says Scotland, preparing to face Czech Republic tomorrow, should be at the front of the chasing pack behind group leaders Spain.

Instead, the Scots trail the second-placed Czechs by five points – but have a game in hand – and Zaliukas says their big-name players must show more in the remaining games.

“With the players Scotland have, I’m surprised they’ve not got second spot yet,” said Zaliukas, 27. “They have a really good squad, many who play in the Premier League or with the Old Firm, and everyone was expecting more from them.”

After Craig Levein’s side posted a slow start to their qualifying campaign in Group I, drawing 0-0 in Lithuania and counting on a last-minute header by Stephen McManus to overcome Liechtenstein at home, the Scotland boss infamously didn’t start a central striker against the Czechs in Prague, an experiment that failed as the team lost 1-0.

Zaliukas’ Tynecastle team mate, Rudi Skacel, a Czech internationalist but omitted from the current squad, implored his country’s manager Michal Bilek to approach tomorrow’s Hampden showdown with decidedly less caution.

“Hopefully, you play the same formation,” Skacel quipped of Scotland’s ill-fated 4-6-0 formation. “I don’t think they will, though. Hopefully Bilek picks the right players, and plays from the front. Definitely, it will be a bad thing if he plays too defensive.”

Skacel revealed that there is more at stake for him personally in tomorrow’s game other than seeing his country improving their chances of reaching next year’s European Championships. “I have confidence that we can win,” he said, “and I don’t want any jokes in the [Hearts] dressing-room if Scotland beat us. Hopefully we can get a good result and I can make the jokes!”

Meanwhile, Hearts’ Scottish Communities League Cup clash with Ayr United will take place on Wednesday, September 21.

The Somerset Park encounter will kick off at 7.45pm, with Celtic’s trip to Ross County chosen for television.