Scotland v Macedonia, 2010 World Cup qualifier, September 5, 2009
“We’ve been studying the latest game they played in Oslo and it’s clear they’ve not improved. In fact, I think they’re worse than when we won 1-0 in Skopje. I noticed that their general performance has gone down all over the pitch and I think they’re looking like a very nervous team as they fear they can’t now qualify for the play-offs. We are travelling with a lot of confidence and a single objective – victory.” – Macedonian keeper Jane Nikolovski.
It says a lot about the Tartan Army that they can be ridiculed and spoken down to by the Macedonian keeper, and yet the insults hold up. The Scots, with only seven points from six games, have to beat Macedonia and Holland in their final two home games on Saturday and Wednesday respectively, to have any chance of reaching South Africa.
The Scots will be missing several key players for the upcoming qualifiers. Burnley’s Steven Caldwell, who has been sidelined with a groin injury since the 4-nil thrashing at hands of Norway three weeks ago, is one absentee, while Caldwell’s younger brother Gary is suspended for the match at Hampden. (Scotland are 11/10 to keep a clean sheet.) Also missing will be Killie forward Kevin Kyle who had to undergo knee surgery last week.
The lack of cover in the Scottish defence has fueled rumours that Celtic defender Stephen McManus could be thrown into action in the qualifier. The Celtic skipper has been sidelined since picking up a knee injury last season and has not turned out for the Bhoys under new boss Tony Mowbray. Elsewhere, Rangers captain Davie Weir (16/1 to score) has also been recalled to the squad after the Norway fiasco and appears a shoe-in to start, while the full-back roles roles could be filled by Spurs’ Alan Hutton and Rangers’ Steven Whittaker.
Birmingham’s Gary O’Connor has been drafted into the squad to add options in the final third, however George Burley is more like to select Kenny Miller (5/1 to score first) while question-marks remain as to whether James McFadden (15/8 to score) will get the nod after being dropped against Norway.
Darren Fletcher (11/2 to score) will be handed the responsibility in the middle of the park, likely flanked by Kris Commons and Scott Brown, although elder-statesmen Paul Hartley and Graham Alexander will be sure to make their case for a starting role in midfield.
Despite Scotland various selection headaches, the Tartan Army will still be confident that they can achieve victory in the must-win match against the Macedonians.
The visitors talisman is undoubtedly Lazio target-man Goran Pandev (15/2 to score first). With almost a one-in-three goal-scoring record in Serie A and having recorded 17 goals in 47 international appearances, Pandev is proven goalscorer at the highest level. In his last international match against Spain, Pandev chalked up a brace against the European champions (Pandev is 14/1 to score a barce aginast the Scots), and the Scots will know that their makeshift backline will have a tough time containing the striker.
Pandev will be probably be flanked by Aco Stojkov (10/3 to score) and Ilco Naumoski (11/4 to score) in attack as the visitors aim to win the match which could put them on the cusp of the finals. Macedonia currently sit second in the group thanks to a better goal difference than the Scots, and a victory on Saturday will leave the Eastern Europeans in pole position to make the playoffs for the World Cup.
101predicts: Scotland 1 – Macedonia 2 (12/1)
Full match odds here.