Craig Levein is backing Scotland to seal a World Cup play-off spot
Craig Levein believes fresh memories of qualifying for Euro 2020 can help Scotland seal their World Cup play-off place by winning in Moldova
Steve Clarke’s side know victory away to Group F’s bottom side on Friday will assure them of second place and keep them on course to make it to Qatar next year.
Scotland have stumbled in matches such as this one previously, most notably when defeats in Georgia in 2007 and 2015 proved costly to their qualification hopes.
However, former national team boss Levein thinks the experience of getting over the line to qualify for a major tournament within the past year will stand the Scots in good stead as they head to Eastern Europe looking to kill off any chance of Israel pipping them to second place.Speaking exclusively to PA, Levein said: “It’s an exciting week. These situations are for looking forward to, particularly against the background of qualifying for the previous tournament. That gives the players and coaching staff an idea of what to expect.“I’m sure they’ll have learned a lot from what they did in the Euros qualifiers and they can put that to good use in these qualifiers coming up.
“It’s football, so Scotland could lose in Moldova. My feeling is that we’re solid enough defensively, as a team, to at least get a draw if things don’t go well but I do think we’ll win.
“I think we’ve got a lot of really good attacking players and there’s quite a good balance to the team. We’re in a good position.”
Levein was involved in two failed qualification campaigns as Scotland manager – Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup – but he has a good grasp of how Clarke will be feeling as he tries to lead the nation to back-to-back tournaments.
He said: “Steve will be excited. When you’re involved in something like this, you don’t look at it as being under pressure.
“It’s an opportunity, a chance to do something that’s pretty significant. That sense of opportunity, for me, was exciting when I was the Scotland manager.
“Sometimes when it doesn’t work, it can send you to the depths of despair, but when it goes well…
“It must have been a great feeling for him to be the first manager in more than 20 years to get Scotland to a major tournament. I’m sure he’ll be thriving after that.”
I’m sure they’ll have learned a lot from what they did in the Euros qualifiers and they can put that to good use in these qualifiers coming up
After the trip to Moldova, Scotland complete their regulation qualification campaign with a home game against runaway group leaders Denmark next Monday. Clarke’s side will hope to have second place secure before that formidable Hampden showdown.
Levein believes finishing in the top two of a qualification group for the first time since Euro 2004 would represent significant further progress for Clarke after making it to Euro 2020 via Nations League results and then a play-off.
He said: “To get second in this group would be another pretty good step forward.
“That’s the key thing, it would be an improvement and a reason for Steve to talk to his players about the improvement they’re making as a team.
“I’m sure he’ll have looked at everything and learned some lessons from previous qualification campaigns that he can put into practise in this one.”
Hearts defender John Souttar has been called into the squad following the withdrawals of Grant Hanley and Ryan Fraser. Levein knows Souttar well from his time in charge of Dundee United and Hearts and believes the 25-year-old – restricted by injuries to just three caps – is equipped to thrive for Scotland.
He said: “John’s been back playing for a little while and I think he’s an international player. He’s got all the attributes required.”
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