Gordon Strachan: Focused Scots can compete with Italy & France

By Alasdair LamontBBC Scotland
Scotland coach Gordon Strachan
Fans got autographs from the Scotland coach before the team left Glasgow on Saturday morning
International friendly: Italy v Scotland
Date: Sunday, 29 May Venue: Ta'Qali Stadium, Malta Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Coach Gordon Strachan sees no reason to fear "an embarrassment" in Scotland's matches against Italy and France.

Strachan's assistant Mark McGhee had spoken of the possibility of being on the wrong end of a heavy defeat if players were not fully focused.

Both Italy and France are using these games as warm-up matches for Euro 2016, which begins in Paris on 10 June.

"So far, we've never had that, that the players have been embarrassed in the time we've been here," said Strachan.

"So I see no reason why that should change.

"You've got to get the balance. You look at their teamsheets and say 'they're top, top players'. But we've done a bit of work this week.

"If you don't switch on and do your jobs properly, every game can be a problem. You're talking to someone who got beat 6-0 by Queen of the South when I was at Dundee and they were a division below us. That's what can happen."

'A great test for the youngsters'

Strachan retains a belief his side were good enough to have qualified for Euro 2016, but with the task of qualifying from a tough-looking World Cup qualification group ahead, the coach sees value in testing the players against high-quality opposition.

The Scots will face England, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta in Group F as they seek to secure a place at Russia 2018.

"There are a lot of reasons why we took these games," said Strachan.

"One, we felt it was attractive. If you wanted players to feel up for it and looking forward to it, it had to be big-name teams and we've got big-name teams.

"It's big players they're playing against and it's a great test for the youngsters and the older members of the team.

"I remember going with Scotland in 1983 to play Canada in three games in Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto - it was torture. I think we'd played 67 games that year at Aberdeen and everything had been competitive.

Barrie McKay and Steven Naismith
Barrie McKay (left) is among the players who could make their Scotland debut

"You don't want to go round the world, leave your family for two weeks, to play a non-competitive match. That's not easy and it's one thing that gives me the benefit over a few people - coaches, sports scientists - they don't know what the feeling's like at this time of the year."

Several systems for Scotland

And though the week-long trip to Malta, to face Italy, and then France in Metz means prolonging the season, Strachan is certain Scotland will benefit.

"The bonuses have been being able to get players together, understand what we're trying to do when the World Cup starts," he stressed.

"We've got players who've been here who know our system, know we like to change it now and then, but the new players can get to know this system.

"There are about three or four systems you can play, so they come here playing one system and we've got to say, 'Whatever we're telling you, we're not saying whatever you're doing at your club is wrong, it's just that when this group of players get together we feel this is the most beneficial for the squad'.

"So for young Barrie [McKay], Stephen Kingsley, Callum [Paterson] has not been with us, Olly Burke, guys who've been out the squad for a wee while - when we get together to play Malta [away in September] we know what we're going to do."