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Scotland continues to defy the odds

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It has been 10 years since the Tartan Army has been able to cheer on its beloved Scottish National Team in a major competition. However, Saturday's 3-1 win over Ukraine moved the Scots one step closer to an improbable spot in next summer's EURO 2008 championships.

Head coach Alex McLeish now has his side just two wins from the top spot in Group B and a place in Austria and Switzerland, something that looked like an impossible dream when the group's were first announced.

World Cup finalists Italy and France were all but handed the top two spots, with Ukraine, a qualifier for the 2006 World Cup, looking like the team that could possibly spoil that party.

Scotland was lumped in with Lithuania and Georgia as teams that looked to be also-rans, but that all changed in the team's third match.

Alex McLeish
Coach Alex McLeish and Scotland have had a lot to cheer about.
After recording wins over the Faroe Islands and Lithuania, Scotland knocked off a heavily-favored France side at home, moving them to the top in the group. Their stay was not expected to last very long, but despite losing games to Italy and Ukraine, the Scots continued to win and once again regained the top spot after an even more surprising 1-0 win at France.

Scotland has two more games remaining on its qualifying schedule, an away contest at Georgia on Wednesday and a massive showdown at home against Italy on November 17 that could decide the group.

While the rosters of both France and Italy are filled with star players who play at top clubs, there is not one name on the Scotland roster that jumps out at you.

There is steady midfielder Darren Fletcher, who is a substitute at Manchester United, striker Kenny Miller, who played a big part in Celtic's winning the Scottish Premier League title last season, and then there is Everton striker James McFadden, who has taken on the role of hero for this Scotland team over the past couple of games.

The 24-year-old McFadden has scored a goal in each of the team's last three contests, including the lone tally against France last month.

McFadden began his career at Motherwell and showed enormous potential at the club, scoring 32 goals in 58 matches. He drew interest from both Rangers and Celtic, but instead opted for a place at Everton. He has yet to reach his full potential for the Toffees, but he seems to fit in quite well with Scotland alongside Kris Boyd and Miller.

Unlike McFadden, Scotland has lived up to its potential and more, winning six consecutive matches for the first time in 58 years. Now, after failing to qualify for the past two European championships as well as the last two editions of the World Cup, confidence is soaring in the Scotland camp.

"On our day we can beat anybody and we are very hard to beat," McFadden told uefa.com. "We've got some very good players, players who are very under-rated. We are confident going into every game, but we're not getting carried away. We have two cup finals coming up, but if we play as we have been playing, we have nothing to fear."

That confidence was initially instilled in the team by former manager Walter Smith, who resigned in early January to take the head job at Rangers. It was under Smith that Scotland recorded its first big win against France, and McLeish, to his credit, has taken over and helped to carry that momentum through to the rest of the team's qualifying campaign.

Wednesday's game at Georgia will not be easy for Scotland because they will be making the trip with a banged up side. A number of regulars including captain Barry Ferguson are dealing with injuries, while both Lee McCulloch and Gary O'Connor will miss the contest through suspension.

However, Fletcher will return to the lineup after shaking off a knee injury, and there is no reason to think that Scotland will fold now after coming this far.

"We have a confidence and belief in ourselves and there's no reason why we can't go to Georgia and get a result," McFadden said. "We have a few knocks to deal with but that's international football and with so much at stake, I'm sure the boys will play through the pain barrier if they have to."

You get the feeling that after 10 games, it will take a lot more than just a few injuries to keep Scotland from achieving its goal.

Remember, the Tartan Army has been waiting 10 years for a moment like this, and there is no way that the beloved national team will keep them waiting any longer.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Pat Martin at pmartin@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com


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