Scotland 'must win first two World Cup qualifiers' - Steven Thompson

John McGinn and Oliver Burke train with Scotland in Malta
John McGinn and Oliver Burke are two youngsters hoping to feature in Malta on Sunday
World Cup qualifying: Malta v Scotland
Date: Sunday, 4 September Venue: Ta'Qali National Stadium Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online; live text commentary on BBC Sport website.

Scotland must win their first two World Cup qualifiers if they are to end their long wait for a major tournament, ex-striker Steven Thompson says.

The Scots begin their 2018 campaign in Malta on Sunday before hosting Lithuania at Hampden Park on 8 October.

With trips to Slovakia and England to come, a strong start is imperative, Thompson said.

"Scotland are historically not great starters, but we need to win both these first two games," he told BBC Scotland.

"We need six points going into a double header against Slovakia - who showed at the Euros they are a very good side - and then England.

"There is a possibility we might get nothing from those two games, so we have to take maximum points from these first two games."

England, 11th in Fifa's world rankings,external-link and Slovakia (24th) are the highest-ranked teams, while Scotland (51), Slovenia (59), Lithuania (125) and Malta (176) make up Group F.

Scotland's 2018 World Cup qualification fixtures
4 Sep: (A) v Malta26 Mar: (H) v Slovenia
8 Oct: (H) v Lithuania10 Jun: (H) v England
11 Oct: (A) v Slovakia1 Sep: (A) v Lithuania
11 Nov: (A) v England4 Sep: (H) v Malta
5 Oct: (H) v Slovakia
8 Oct: (A) v Slovenia

"This game in Malta is one we should definitely win, and have to win, whether Malta are hard to beat or not," says Thompson, who won 16 Scotland caps from 2002 to 2004.

"It is going to be tough, I don't think we will see many goals, but I'm hoping Scotland can find a way to break them down."

The former Dundee United, Rangers and St Mirren striker believes manager Gordon Strachan must give youth its head in this campaign.

Three 21-year-olds - Hibernian midfielder John McGinn, Rangers forward Barrie McKay, 21 and Hearts right-back Callum Paterson - plus 19-year-old winger Oliver Burke - now the most expensive Scottish player ever - could feature against Malta on Sunday.

"Hopefully some of the younger players will get an opportunity and bring a freshness," Thompson said. "I would like to see John McGinn in midfield, now Scott Brown has stepped down. I think that is a void McGinn can step into.

"Oliver Burke can bring an excitement and speed and directness to the team. You have also got Callum Paterson at right-back.

Young players have given Scotland squad a lift - Gordon Strachan

"It is the start of a new campaign and there has to be a freshness and something different. The last campaign was ultimately a failure so can you run with the same squad and same players if it wasn't successful?

"I would be bringing in fresh blood and looking to give the supporters something to be positive about. Oliver Burke is certainly a player who can do that, as is John McGinn."

One problem for Strachan, Thompson believes, is the recent inactivity of some players who would normally be considered frontline options.

Regular centre-back pairing Russell Martin (one game for Norwich) and Grant Hanley (two for Newcastle) and full-back Alan Hutton (two for Aston Villa) have featured sparingly for their clubs this season, as have midfielders James Morrison (two for West Brom) and Ikechi Anya (two for Watford before moving to Derby this week).

"Quite a number of Gordon's starting 11 have hardly played any football this season and I think that is going to be a big problem," Thompson added.

"I don't go into this campaign with any great expectations. I approach it with hope, but it is going to be a very difficult group to get out of."