x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Scotland ready for the tall order of trying to beat Spain

Scotland face a big task in trying to get something against Spain tonight to allow them to qualify for a Euro 2012 play-off as runner-up in Group I.

Scotland will hope Craig Mackail-Smith can get on the scoresheet again for Scotland tonight against Spain.
Scotland will hope Craig Mackail-Smith can get on the scoresheet again for Scotland tonight against Spain.

Alicante's Jose Rico Perez stadium looms over the Mediterranean city which is witnessing a friendly invasion by 15,000 Scotland fans ahead of their vital Euro 2012 qualifier against Spain tonight.

Fans are swarming in from nearby coastal resorts such as Benidorm in the hope of seeing Scotland qualify for a major tournament after their last five unsuccessful attempts.

Scotland have been allocated just 3,000 tickets, but that will not stop the rest of the Tartan Army's happy travellers trying to gain access to the 29,584 capacity stadium where the second division side, Hercules, usually play.

Fittingly, Scotland, ranked 52 in the world, face a Herculean task against Spain, ranked first, if they are going to participate in their first finals since the 1998 World Cup in France.

European and world champions Spain have won all seven of their group games so far, scoring 23 and conceding just five goals.

Vicente del Bosque's side won 3-2 at Hampden Park in Glasgow in the away leg, though Scotland won praise after coming from 2-0 down to draw level before Fernando Llorente's winner 11 minutes from time.

The Spanish players were mesmerised by the Hampden atmosphere too, a little bit of which the travelling Scots hope to recreate in Alicante.

Spain are already through, but the second-placed team in Group I go through to a two-legged play-off against another group runner-up to make Euro 2012. Scotland are currently in that position with 11 points after Saturday's 1-0 victory in Liechtenstein.

The Czech Republic, who lost 2-0 at home to Spain a day earlier, are third and a point behind Scotland. The Czechs are away to a Lithuania side who beat them a year ago.

If the Lithuanians repeat that result at home in Kaunas then Scotland are through - but the Czechs remain favourites.

Spain's squad reads like a "who's who" of world football, while Scotland largely comprises mid-ranking Premier League footballers and below - Craig Mackail-Smith, 27, the goalscorer in Liechtenstein, has played just 10 games in England's second tier for Brighton & Hove Albion.

Yet Scotland are confident and they have to be. They remember going to Paris and beating France 1-0 four years ago in a qualifier for Euro 2008 as their 4-5-1 formation paid off.

"We are in a position I would have taken at the start of the campaign, where if we win the game we finish second, that's a fact," Craig Levein, the Scotland coach, said.

"It is a tall order, we understand that but there is nothing for us to fear, that is the important thing, there is nothing to fear."

Scotland must match or better the result achieved by the Czechs and they have been boosted by the return of their captain Darren Fletcher, the Manchester United midfielder, who was expected to miss the game in Liechtenstein but played.

Spain have been steamrollering teams and boast as many points as Scotland and the Czech Republic put together. Friday's win in Prague was their 13th victory in a row. La Roja have won every single competitive home match since a 1-0 loss to Romania in Cadiz five years ago - 23 consecutive victories on Spanish soil.

Spain have not lost a competitive match since their surprise opening World Cup loss to Switzerland in Durban 16 months ago and even then they dominated play.

Like the Barcelona side from which so many of their squad are drawn, they are not immune to the very occasional shock, but Del Bosque maintains his side will be playing to win against Scotland.

Spain are unstoppable, boast a happy camp and competition for places. Even with Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas injured, their bench in Prague contained David Villa, Llorente, Santi Cazorla and Thiago Alcantara - all brilliant attacking talents.

It was Spain's dominant midfield in Prague which won praise from Del Bosque, who said: "Our midfielders were able to dominate the entire game. [David] Silva and [Juan] Mata are very important players. They had a great game."

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