Scotland boss hopes to see group winners turn in professional show against Czech Republic tonight
CRAIG LEVEIN trusts Spain to display all their qualities against the Czech Republic in Prague tonight to emerge with a victory which will keep Scotland’s flickering Euro 2012 hopes alive.
The Czechs, who took four points from their two games against Scotland, are two points clear of Levein’s men with both countries going in to their final two Group I games and a win against the world and European champions, who have already qualified, would all but end Scotland’s hopes of a play-off spot.
The Scots face Liechtenstein tomorrow night in Vaduz before a trip to Spain on Tuesday night concludes their fixtures. The Czechs, meantime, finish their campaign with a trip to Lithuania.
“It is still out of our hands because if the Czech Republic win both their matches they qualify no matter what we do,” Levein said. “The big problem for them is that they have a very difficult match tonight. All being well, though, Spain will be at their best.
“In a friendly match recently the Spanish team was 2-0 down to Chile and came back to win it 3-2.
“They have a real determination to win every match they are involved in.
“You just need to look at the squad they have assembled for these games – apart from a couple of little niggles, all the big-hitters are there. I’m expecting them to do their best. In fact, I know they will.”
The former Scotland defender refuted suggestions that the Czechs might be the more motivated team.
“I don’t even entertain that thought because I look at what Spain have done recently, the pride they take in their performances and their victories,” said Levein.
“They are winners, aren’t they? And that becomes a habit. Just look at [Rafael] Nadal in the tennis. Once they get into that habit they want to win every single match. That’s the way this Spanish team is. They will want to finish this group having won every single game, to end up with maximum points.
“Now that might cause us a problem of our own on the Tuesday, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
As for Scotland’s game tomorrow, Levein believes that if his side repeat their Hampden performance against Liechtenstein when the two sides meet again in Vaduz it will bring an abrupt end to their Euro 2012 hopes.
The Scots were spared probably their most embarrassing ever international result when a dramatic 97th-minute header from defender Stephen McManus beat the Group I minnows 2-1 in the at the national stadium in September last year.
While most pundits have taken a Scotland win tomorrow for granted – and it seems hugely unlikely that they could play so poorly again – Levein said: “We don’t really need any evidence to show that if we are not at our best then we won’t be successful because the last time we played them we weren’t at our best and we struggled to beat to beat them at home.
“And if we put in a performance like that this time, we won’t beat them.
“I am not worried about the pundits and fans, how they view Liechtenstein doesn’t have an effect on how we play.
“What I’m really concerned about is that we make sure that the players understand the nature of what we are facing.”
Levein, who has attracted a criticism for his tactics in the short time he has been in the job, continued: “I get the chance to see Liechtenstein play regularly.
“They have taken four points off Lithuania, the same as we have, and were very unlucky recently against Switzerland.
“There is an understanding in their team which makes it very difficult to break them down.
“The good things for me is that we have a good group of players who don’t take their foot off the gas.
“I can say that there hasn’t been a game when I felt that we weren’t 100 per cent on it, and that’s what we need to be, focused, and play the game with an intensity.
“If we don’t move the ball quickly then we will struggle.”
The Scotland squad flew out from Glasgow Airport for their Switzerland base without skipper Darren Fletcher who is ruled out of tomorrow’s match after being struck down with tonsillitis, although it is hoped that the Manchester United midfielder may recover for the game against Spain.
Striker Kenny Miller has a minor tear in his groin and is also likely to miss the Liechtenstein game, but he has travelled nevertheless and is hopeful of being fit to face the Spanish.
Levein, who is also without Scott Brown due to a long-term injury, knows there is little else he can do but wait to see what the next few days bring but is unwilling to offer “false hope” of Fletcher being available for the Spain game and insists he will not gamble with Miller.
“I thank Darren for every match because he is our captain and arguably our best player so I would like to have him available,” he said.
“Every time he is not available, it is a blow for us.
“He is improving, I spoke to him last night and he is feeling better so I’m hopeful but I would not want to give anyone false hope.
“Kenny Miller is also improving. He will train on Friday but I won’t take a chance on him against Liechtenstein.”
Aston Villa defender Alan Hutton has recovered from a knee knock while Graham Dorrans and Barry Robson have shrugged off their respective ankle and thigh complaints.
Levein’s assistant Peter Houston, meanwhile, says he will tune in to the Czech Republic’s match tonight with some trepidation.
“I will probably be nervous,” he said.
“It’s natural. We want the Spanish to do well and then have an off day against us on Tuesday.
“That’s really all we can hope for.”
The players themselves appear to have taken Levein’s warning about the test they face tomorrow to heart, although Brown’s replacement, Don Cowie, admits the loss of the Celtic skipper and Darren Fletcher is a major blow.
Brown has been ruled out for up to ten weeks with an ankle injury and Cardiff midfielder Cowie, who made his first competitive start in the scrappy 1-0 win against Lithuania in September, said: “I am disappointed that Darren and Scott have not managed to come out with us for this game.”
“It is a big loss because you are losing your captain and the captain of Celtic Football Club, two excellent players.
“We obviously would rather have them, they are two influential players but such is football.
“You get illnesses and injuries and it is something you have to deal with.
However, Cowie added that there are a number of players in the squad, including himself, who can step in and play their part.
“It is still a strong squad, there are still a lot of players who are ready and capable of coming in and making a difference,” he said.
“We know our job, we know what we have to do.
“The most important thing is that we get three points.
“But we have a few days before the manager names the team so we will have to wait and see.”