London Hearts Supporters Club

Report Index--> 2008-09--> All for 20080906
<-Page n/a n/a Page->
n/a n/a Independent ------ Report n/a n/a
n/a Nick Harris n/a
3 of 019

Depleted Scotland feel the heat in Macedonia

Nick Harris

Macedonia's capital is notable for its Roman origins, its 15th century Stone Bridge and for surviving, just about, a massive earthquake in 1963. It was the birthplace of Mother Teresa, is twinned with Bradford and has a bazaar that is 1,000 years old. Yet the only gob-smacking thing that the Scotland squad cared a jot about here yesterday as they touched down at the Alexander the Great airport was the temperature.

The heat is well and truly on. It was 93°F in the afternoon shade and will be nudging 100 by kick-off at 3pm today (2pm in the United Kingdom). George Burley and his managerial team have spent the last week trying to perfect "individual hydration programmes" for each of the players, and it apparently involves more than bottles of water and iced towels.

But Burley also insisted that the task in today's opening qualifier for the 2010 World Cup will be more arduous than simply making it onto the pitch in decent shape. So what if this same group of players pushed the 2006 World Cup finalists, Italy and France, to the very last game in their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign before being ousted from the party at the last? Burley is adamant that Scotland's qualifying group – which includes the Netherlands, Norway and Iceland as well as today's opponents – will be every bit as tough in its own way.

"Macedonia are an exceptional side," said Burley. "I say that because they have been together for two or three years and have had good results against England, Poland and Croatia. It would be naive to think we can come here and find picking up three points very easy."

Burley has already played down notions that Scotland, ranked No 16 in the world, would like to climb above England (at No 15) for the feat's sake alone. Indeed he dismisses rankings in themselves, and Macedonia, down in the mid-50s are a good illustration of why.

They have never qualified for anything but they have been a thorn in the side of bigger, traditionally better nations for a decade. Under Srecko Katanec, who famously guided Slovenia to Euro 2000, they have held England to a draw in England and beat Croatia in Euro 2008 qualifying. Poland and Serbia are among those who have left Skopje without wins in Macedonia's current 14-month unbeaten home spell. Macedonia's most recent away game was a 4-1 win in Luxembourg.

"They are hard to beat on their own ground," Burley said. "Macedonia are not a Holland – but they are capable of taking points off other teams in this section. They are a passing team and they've had continuity in their squad."

Burley has yet to taste victory as Scotland's manager after friendly draws at home to Croatia and Northern Ireland and a defeat in the Czech Republic. He was undermanned in each of those games after multiple dubious call-offs, which certainly prevented him fielding his best team.

Then again, his side will be depleted today. Five absentees might well all have started. Barry Ferguson, Scotland's long-time captain, is recovering from surgery. Tottenham's right-back Alan Hutton, who had an impressively swashbuckling Euro 2008 campaign, is injured, as are the Rangers trio of veteran centre-back David Weir and midfielders Lee McCulloch and Kevin Thomson. That should make team selection more straightforward, with the main question being whether to field both James McFadden and Kenny Miller in attacking roles.

Katanec's settled team will play 3-4-3 and certainly include their talisman and major danger, Goran Pandev of Lazio.

Macedonia (possible 3-4-3): Milosevski; Sedloski, Mitreski, Noveski; Lazarevski, Tasevski, Grozdanovski, Sumulikoski; Naumoski, Pandev, Maznov.

Scotland (probable 4-4-1-1): Gordon (Sunderland); Alexander (Burnley), McManus, Caldwell (both Celtic), Naysmith (Sheffield United); Brown (Celtic), Fletcher (Man Utd), Hartley, Robson (both Celtic); McFadden (Birmingham); Miller (Rangers).

Referee: P Kralovec (Czech Republic)

Also in Group Nine: Netherlands, Norway, Iceland.

<-Page n/a n/a Page->
| Home | Contact Us | Credits | © |