Scotland boss Gordon Strachan praises squad’s resilience

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Gordon Strachan says his players’ belief in one another has reignited Scotland’s World Cup qualifying bid as they prepare to face Malta at Hampden.

The Scots could clinch a possible play-off spot for Russia with three wins in their remaining games, despite a poor start to their Group F matches in 2016.

“We have dragged ourselves out a bad place,” said Strachan at Hampden.

“We could only have done that if we believed in each other and enjoyed working with each other.”

Third-placed Scotland host the group’s bottom side, Malta, on Monday evening ahead of Slovakia’s visit on 5 October and the final match away to Slovenia three days later.

Group leaders England play Slovakia at Wembley on Monday, where a win for the visitors would leave them one victory away from guaranteeing second place at least.

The top eight runners-up from Europe’s nine World Cup qualifying groups go into a two-legged play-off for a place at the 2018 World Cup

Scotland, above Slovenia on goals scored alone, are six points behind Gareth Southgate’s men and four behind Slovakia.

Yet their campaign looked doomed last November when a win against Malta, a home draw with Lithuania and defeats by Slovakia and England left Scotland in fifth place, with only Malta beneath them.

Having recovered from a poor opening to the campaign, Strachan was asked at Sunday’s media conference if he drew satisfaction from the turnaround in the team’s fortunes.

“I have a great pride in what I do,” he replied.

“I enjoy working with these guys. It’s good to see them going away feeling positive after a game.

“That was a bad spell we went through. Like most club sides, you get a bad spell and I think we’ve dealt with it like a club side; we’ve got over it and recovered as a group.

“The good thing about being Scotland manager is that you can make a nation happy and I want to continue doing that.

“The belief has always come from the group of players. The group has evolved over the last year. I have never had any doubt in the players really. Because we never had any doubts with each other, we could come back from not being in a good place.”

Strachan called for patience in his team’s play and in the stands against Malta, ranked 190th in world football.

“I’d love to say we’ll go and attack and score goals, but it never really works out that way,” he said.

“When you look at Malta’s performances over the last year, even England scoring four goals, the last three were in the last couple of minutes. It was the same when Lithuania played them.

“We played them and it was 5-1 but we were fortunate that night, a lot of things went our way.

James Forrest, Andrew Robertson and Stuart Armstrong took part in the training session in Bishopton on Sunday morning, with only Barry Bannan absent through injury

“It’s being patient to go and find areas where to play at a high tempo.

“I think we already know how difficult it is going to be to break Malta down. They are well coached and they take great pride in playing for their country. Even when they go a goal down they have pride in what they do and they make it very hard for you.”

Strachan hinted that, with some members of his squad having played frequently already this season, and with the late return from Vilnius on Friday night having disrupted sleep patterns, he may change the starting XI.

“If we went with the same side I don’t think anyone would complain,” he said.

“There are players in our squad who have played 10 games, players who have played two, so you have to take that into consideration, with back-to-back games that quickly.

“If we do change, we must keep the same intensity, the same ability to run with the ball and without the ball. The other day there the people who were running without the ball made a huge difference to the performance.”


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