Scotland must be bold and assertive to overcome Georgia

Gordon Strachan has refused to acknowledge the Georgia game as a "must win"
Gordon Strachan has refused to acknowledge the Georgia game as a "must win"
Euro 2016 qualifying: Georgia v Scotland
Date: Friday, 4 September Venue: Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tiblisi Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/online; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Naturally, nobody inside the Scotland camp will describe the encounter with Georgia as a game that must be won.

There are three further games to be played in the Euro 2016 qualifying group, after all, and the situation could be retrieved if points are dropped but that is only the psychology of the situation around the national team.

Gordon Strachan has, in effect, already laid out his game plan. He has spoken of not sending a team out to earn a draw, but that too can be acknowledged as part of the verbal sparring around a significant match.

The reflection of Strachan's approach can be found in the mentality and mood of the players.

There is no sense of trepidation amongst the group. Russell Martin has spoken of not booking a summer holiday next year because of his conviction that Scotland will qualify.

Steven Naismith has remarked upon the squad dynamic that Strachan has built up, where competitive tensions (in the constant striving to remain in the starting line-up), professionalism and a balance between creative licence and responsibility have combined to create an enduring optimism.

Self-confidence is key

It is clear that the players believe in themselves. It can be too glibly accepted that confidence is a vital commodity, but when it is established over a period of time by a series of positive results and performances - all underpinned by the acknowledgement that the manager's tactics and coaching techniques have proved effective when put to the test - it emboldens a team.

The nature of the game in Georgia cannot be shied away from, but the current squad does not seem unduly vulnerable to the inhibitions of pressure.

The Scotland players trained on Thursday in the Georgian heat
The Scotland players trained on Thursday in the Georgian heat

The game has to be won because of the context of Group D. All of Scotland's rivals for the top two qualifying positions and the potential third-place play-off place - Germany, Poland and Republic of Ireland - have all won in Georgia.

That alone means that if Scotland are to maintain the strength of their challenge, with Strachan's side currently two points ahead of the Republic, two behind Germany and three behind leaders Poland, then they need to defeat the Georgians.

The current side might be stalked by past disappointments and the enduring self-doubt of a nation that has endured too many set-backs but the players cannot be waylaid by that.

They have dealt with stressful situations in this campaign, such as the tightly-fought encounter with the Irish at Celtic Park last November when they held their nerve and earned a victory through Shaun Maloney's beautifully crafted strike.

Friday evening is another occasion for hardened hearts but also for clear thinking.

Consistency over experimentation

Strachan has, on occasion, opted for unexpected selections - such as Craig Forsyth starting at left-back for the June 1-1 draw in Dublin - or tactical decisions - such as starting with only one recognised central defender in the 6-1 win against Gibraltar at Hampden.

The choices were all made with rational logic, but they disrupted the momentum built by a steady formation and generally consistent selection policy.

David Marshall has retained the goalkeeper's position and, injury-permitting, the back four would be expected to be Alan Hutton, Russell Martin, Grant Hanley and Andrew Robertson.

There is scope for versatility in midfield, not least because James McArthur has performed so impressively for Crystal Palace this season, but the chemistry between Celtic team-mates Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew has been vitally effective for the national team in central midfield.

The attacking places are less secure but there ought to always be a place for the scheming of Maloney and the gritty industry of Steven Naismith.

Both Leigh Griffiths (left) and Steven Fletcher are vying for a starting place up front for Scotland
Both Leigh Griffiths (left) and Steven Fletcher are vying for a starting place up front for Scotland

Ikechi Anya's pace and work-rate have provided reassurance on the left, although James Forrest and Matt Ritchie have both made strong claims for inclusion in the past.

Up front Steven Fletcher has been pivotal to the overall shape and poise of the team but is continually challenged by the goalscoring exploits of Leigh Griffiths.

The core of the side, when it has been settled, has delivered for Strachan. He values consistency and reliability amongst his players, the sense that he can turn to them in a moment of need and they will deliver for him again. This is the basis on which to select the side for the game against Georgia.

It is likely that 20 points would see Scotland finish level with Poland, but ahead of them in the table if they prevail when the two sides meet at Hampden in the penultimate match on the head-to-head record.

To reach that point, though, Scotland need to perform to their level and to the standards of the group by winning in Georgia.

Anything less will narrow Scotland's options.

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