Stuart McCall believes that having stunned Croatia, Scotland can pull off another shock result against star-studded Belgium.
The winning goal by Robert Snodgrass, pictured below, in Zagreb’s Stadion Maksimir three months ago breathed new life into Gordon Strachan’s squad, a first victory in seven matches in World Cup qualifying Group A for the Scots, their dream of playing in next summer’s finals in Rio dashed almost before their campaign had begun thanks to those opening draws against Serbia and Macedonia.
Strachan’s players followed up that surprise win against one of the group favourites with a commendable performance against England at Wembley, eventually losing despite having twice taken the lead and now, coach McCall insists, they are ready to defy their underdog tag once again.
The Motherwell boss, however, acknowledged the Scots face a tough task at Hampden on Friday night when, in reality, they will be playing for little more than pride against a side packed with instantly recognisable names, world-renowned stars such as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Jan Vertongen of Spurs, Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke and, of course, Marouane Fellaini, who moved from Everton to Manchester United for £27.5 million on transfer deadline day. Even so, the former Scotland midfielder feels the Belgians will have it much tougher than last October when they won 2-0 in Brussels in what was to be then manager Craig Levein’s last match in charge of the national side.
He said: “To be honest, as a player, although you won’t get it much tougher, you always want to test yourself against the best. Some of the players in the Belgium squad are household names. They are renowned all over the world. They play for some of the biggest clubs on the planet.
“But over the years, the bigger the game, be it against Spain, Italy or Holland, the better Scotland perform. When Scotland are the underdogs they seem to rise to the occasion, so hopefully Friday will be no different. When we come up against sides we are expected to beat, when punters turn up thinking we will beat Wales, we will beat Macedonia, we will beat Serbia, whatever, is it often different. Everyone who comes to the game on Friday night will be hoping for a win but, at the same time, knowing it will be difficult.
“It will have to be a team effort, the fans, the players and everyone will have to muck in. We’re hopeful we can put them under more pressure with us being at home. I think they are bringing 6000 fans to the game, so that will add an edge. It is probably a little challenge for the Tartan Army as well so I am sure the atmosphere will be good.”
There’s undoubtedly a new-found sense of belief coursing through Strachan’s squad, although McCall accepted work remained to be done such as eradicating the errors which led to England scoring from two set pieces which denied the Scots a memorable win in their first clash with the Auld Enemy in 12 years.
“We got lots of encouragement at Wembley,” he agreed, “It was disappointing to lose the game in the manner we did. Belgium are certainly a big, strong side as well and will be dangerous at set plays. There is no doubt about that.
“What we have to be wary of, and it was the same at Wembley and to an extent in Croatia, when we are up against footballers as talented as the Belgiams. It is an individual challenge to a player to go out and be the best you can be.
“We have to take a positive mindset and I think this group has got that. We are at the stage now where a lot of our boys are playing against very good players at a high level with their clubs on a weekly basis.”
Scotland, of course, begin life without Kenny Miller, the much-travelled former Hibs star having announced his retirement from international football having won his 69th cap against England, marking his departure with the Scots’ second goal, but McCall believes there are plenty of young pretenders for the king’s crown.
He said: “What has been good recently is the form of our strikers.
“In the last week, Jordan Rhodes has banged four in for Blackburn Rovers.
“He hadn’t got off the mark for the season before being called into the squad but he’s now got two in the League Cup and two in the league. He will be feeling good about himself.
“Leigh Griffiths got another goal at the weekend, Ross McCormack is doing well and scoring goals at Leeds United, Shaun Maloney is doing well at Wigan Athletic.
“It’s disappointing Kenny has decided to retire, but we have got lads there who are desperate to get the shirt. They have all hit the goal trail this season and are all in decent form, which is encouraging.”