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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 14:08 GMT
Scots set for date with destiny
By David Ornstein

Alex McLeish
Scotland are seeking a fitting end to their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign against Italy in Glasgow on Saturday.

Few gave the Scots a chance of reaching next summer's finals when they were drawn in a group with Italy and France.

But they have beaten the French twice, and a win against the world champions at a sell-out Hampden Park would book their place in Austria and Switzerland.

A confident Scotland boss Alex McLeish declared: "Italy are beatable - there's no doubt we can do this."

And McLeish told a news conference on the eve of the crunch fixture: "There is massive belief among the squad. We may not win the game but I tell you the players won't bottle it, that's for sure."

When the Euro 2008 draw was made in January 2006, Scottish football looked set for yet another period in the international wilderness.

"It could hardly be tougher," Scottish FA chief executive David Taylor said at the time. "It's good for TV money, good for the fans, with trips to Paris and Rome, but it's a tough, tough draw."

And now, 22 months later, Taylor's replacement Gordon Smith is able to tell the BBC: "For us to be sitting where we are now a win away from qualifying is a tremendous achievement by the players, Alex McLeish and his staff."

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Third place or even fourth place in Group B behind 2000 winners France and runners-up Italy and Ukraine looked likely, but less than 22 months later the Scots are 90 minutes away from turning those predictions on their head.

"It was an impossible task and we couldn't have imagined in our wildest dreams that we would be going into the last game with a chance of qualifying," said James McFadden, who has scored four goals along the way.

The job was started by Walter Smith, who departed to become Rangers boss with Scotland sitting top of the group having won three of their opening four games including victory over France at Hampden.

Smith's successor, Alex McLeish, has conjured five wins from seven qualifiers, a sequence featuring an even more remarkable triumph against the French in Paris.

  • If Scotland beat Italy they will qualify for Euro 2008
  • If they lose then Italy and France will book their places at the finals
  • Should they draw, Scotland will need Ukraine to beat France at home on 21 November

Qualification would be greeted by joyful scenes in a country whose national sport is in rude health.

With both Celtic and Rangers looking to reach the Champions League knockout stages, 2007 is increasingly drawing comparisons with 1967, when Scotland beat world champions England at Wembley and Celtic became the first British team to lift the European Cup.

"Last month Celtic beat AC Milan, the European champions - so why can't we beat the world champions?" said McLeish.

Gianluigi Buffon
I would settle for a point in Scotland because that means qualification for us

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon

"They are beatable. France beat them and we beat France. One more titanic effort from the lads and it'll be a clean sweep of victories on home soil, but we know the size of the task."

And Scotland legend Graeme Souness, who played for Serie A side Sampdoria, says all the pressure is on Italy. "The world champions have got to qualify," he said.

McLeish admits he is yet to decide what formation to deploy for the match - and will keep the Italians guessing until the last possible moment - but it is likely he will choose a 4-1-4-1, meaning that McFadden or Kenny Miller could miss out.

Italy boss Roberto Donadoni is set to select a conservative 4-3-2-1 in the knowledge that all his side must do to qualify is avoid defeat.

His goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said: "If I'm honest, I would settle for a point in Scotland because that means qualification for us. But we know that if we want to go to Euro 2008 we will have to battle."

Italy have never won at Hampden, a point raised by former Scotland manager Craig Brown who told BBC Radio 5 Live that "everything is pointing to a Scotland victory".

The hosts can also take heart from the fact that after Italy won the World Cup in 1982, they failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championships.

Their preparations have been overshadowed by the turmoil that followed the fatal shooting of a Lazio supporter by a police officer last Sunday.

Donadoni's squad has taken refuge at the Coverciano training camp, their base during the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal that clouded the build-up to last year's World Cup.

"I would be lying if I said that this situation has not affected us," Buffon added.

"But a couple of days have passed since the incident and although we will not forget what has happened, we are focused on this weekend's game."

Scotland supporter
The Tartan Army will be out in force for the visit of Italy

At 1700 GMT on Saturday, Scotland will come to a standstill.

The match has been officially declared a sell-out but BBC Sport found tickets advertised online for more than 700.

A big screen and entertainment has been organised at Glasgow Green, for which entry passes are trading for upwards of 70.

Estimates suggest one million pints of beer will be consumed in Glasgow on Saturday alone as thousands of people from all over Scotland converge on the city.

Dominic McVey, chairman of the Greater Glasgow Hotels Association, confirmed on Thursday that "there are no rooms available in the city at the moment and any spaces that become free will be few and far between".

VisitScotland area director for Glasgow, Tom McWilliam said: "Glasgow always has a tourism boom whenever we host a big international match, but this one is shaping up to be one of the biggest in a decade."

By the time the finals come around next year it will be 10 years since Scotland competed in a major international tournament, the 1998 World Cup.

McLeish, his team and an entire nation will be desperate to mark that anniversary with a return to the big time.



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