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Last Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Alan Hansen's column
Alan Hansen
By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Gary Caldwell celebrates Scotland's win over France
I would have settled for a draw but to get three points was unbelievable

Three games, nine points, and Scotland are in the driving seat as they look to qualify for Euro 2008.

If they can grab a few away results and win their home games, they'll be there and if you had even suggested that when the draw was made, you would have been a laughing stock.

It was a quite phenomenal result against France, a team who are World Cup finalists and have so many great players who we watch week-in, week-out in the Premiership.

I would have settled for a draw but to get three points against that French side was unbelievable.

I was up in Scotland last week and everyone was talking about the game and they were so excited, which hasn't been the case for a long time.

Walter Smith has given the players and the supporters belief that they can qualify.

One of his great strengths is his ability to get players organised and to get them playing for each other.

Look at the Republic of Ireland team of the late 1970s and early 80s: they had some great players but they never really had that teamwork, that spirit.

But from the late 80s onwards, when they had that spell of success, they had moderate players but they were organised, they played for each other and they played with passion for the jersey.

Walter knows he hasn't got the best players, but he has got some decent ones and by getting the system right and getting them playing for each other, they will reap the rewards.

While Smith is rightly getting the plaudits, it hasn't been a very pleasant weekend for Steve McClaren.

The criticism is inevitable when you're England boss. If they win, they're the best team in the world. If not, it's the opposite.

There is no doubt that they played very, very poorly against Macedonia. It was hugely disappointing.

It is vital to go after the opposition in the first 15 minutes at home but they didn't seem to have any urgency, and things didn't improve.

The passing was dreadful, the final ball was dreadful.

However, they did not lose and if they can go to Croatia and win on Wednesday, the Macedonia game will be quickly forgotten.

McClaren needs to answer his critics with a performance on Wednesday

There are whispers that McClaren will change to a 3-5-2 system, bringing Shaun Wright-Phillips into the midfield.

Wright-Phillips was certainly lively when he came on on Saturday, but the jury is out on him as an international player, especially while he cannot even get into the Chelsea team.

So McClaren has some big decisions to make but that is what being a top-class manager is all about.

When you come under pressure, you answer your critics with team selections and performances and that is what McClaren needs to do on Wednesday.

The great thing about the fixture pattern is they're not waiting two months for another game, something that is also a big advantage for Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

They both suffered crushing defeats on Saturday but if they can pull something out of the bag in their games on Wednesday, that will all be forgotten.

Wales' 5-1 defeat to Slovakia has even got some fans wanting the likes of Gary Speed and Robbie Savage to return to the fold.

That doesn't help the confidence of the current squad but if I was them, I would take it as a massive incentive to get out there on Wednesday and prove I'm better than them.

And the last word goes to Northern Ireland, who picked up an admirable draw away to Denmark.

It was a great defensive performance and after their recent wins over Spain and England, they have proved they can get a result against anybody.

It would be great for the country and their fans if they could get to the last couple of games with a realistic chance of qualifying. That would really give them something to shout about.



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SEE ALSO
Scotland 1-0 France
07 Oct 06 |  Internationals
England 0-0 Macedonia
07 Oct 06 |  Internationals
Wales 1-5 Slovakia
07 Oct 06 |  Internationals
Cyprus 5-2 Republic of Ireland
07 Oct 06 |  Internationals
Denmark 0-0 N Ireland
07 Oct 06 |  Internationals


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