As most of Scotland looks excitedly towards Alicante and a date with world and European Champions Spain next Tuesday, the players will need no reminding that they have a tricky away fixture with Liechtenstein to negotiate first.
Only a 97th-minute winner from Stephen McManus spared Scotland’s blushes when the sides met at Hampden Park last September and if that didn’t act as warning enough, then Scotland need only glance at Liechtenstein’s record in the group thus far to realise that this is far from being a foregone conclusion.
Hans-Peter Zaugg’s men have taken four points from Lithuania so far (the same as Scotland managed) and can move to within a point of Craig Levein’s men with a win on Saturday. With the prospect of making this one of their best ever qualifying campaigns, Liechtenstein need no greater incentive at the Rheinpark Stadion on Saturday evening.
For Scotland, nothing but a win will do if they want to keep alive their slim qualification hopes going into the showdown with Spain next week.
Assistant manager Peter Houston has said that he would take another late winner if it meant picking up all three points, but few Scotland fans would relish the prospect of leaving it so late again to grind out a result against a side ranked 118th in the FIFA world rankings.
Scotland fans will not have been encouraged in the lead up to the game by their manager Craig Levein urging a cautious approach.
Ultra-defensive displays against Lithuania and the Czech Republic away from home have been blamed for Scotland’s poor placing in the group and they have yet to score a single goal on their travels.
Given Scotland’s poor form on the road and Liechtenstien’s brave performance against them at Hampden Park, there could be a few opportunistic punters ready to stick a few quid on Liechtenstein to win the game at tempting odds of 19/2, or backing the draw at 15/4.
However, if Scotland are to break their goal duck on the road and pick up three points, they couldn’t really have chosen a more suitable team to come up against.
Liechtenstein, for all their endeavour, have shipped 16 goals in the group already and have a goal difference of -13.
With the SPL’s leading goalscorer Stevie Naismith in their ranks, Scotland will be confident of hitting the net this time around. They are 31/100 with bwin to win the game, but such short odds might not tell the full story.
As Levein’s infamously defensive tactics are likely to be deployed again on Saturday night, the Liechtenstein rearguard could be forgiven for thinking that they will be the ones bucking the trend this weekend.
Liechtenstein are 11/2 to keep a clean sheet, and 10/1 to win to nil, while you can find odds of 13/5 on there being less than 1.5 goals in the game.
Many people will find it difficult to see past Scotland, however, and for these people the best bet may lie in predicting how long Liechtenstein can hold out for.
Five of Scotland’s six qualifying goals so far have come in the second half and they are 7/5 to draw a blank by half-time again on Saturday.
Odds of 3/1 on a draw at half-time and a Scotland win at full-time could also tempt some punters to part with their cash, while odds of 23/20 for more goals to be scored in the second half than in the first look very tempting indeed.
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