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Scotland captain tells team not to give up hope
Published : 06 Sep 2011 04:30:26
Scotland captain Darren Fletcher has called on his team-mates not to give up on their Euro 2012 qualification dream despite Saturday's 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic leaving their hopes in tatters.
Scotland's chances of securing second spot and a play-off place behind runaway Group I leaders Spain are hanging by a slender thread after a controversial decision from Dutch referee Kevin Blom in the final moments at Hampden Park.
Fletcher scored what looked to be a Scotland winner in the 83rd minute, after Kenny Miller's opener had been cancelled out by Jaroslav Pasil, that would have got Scotland's qualification campaign back on track.
However controversy struck in the final minute when Blom pointed to the spot after substitute Jan Rezek went down despite no apparent contact from Danny Wilson.
Michal Kadlec expertly converted the penalty which leaves Scotland with an uphill struggle to finish second.
Scotland, who face Lithuania on Tuesday, are now five points behind the Czechs with a game in hand and Michal Bilek's team will secure the play-off place if they beat Spain at home and then Lithuania away in their final two games.
But Fletcher is determined to make sure Scotland make it as hard as they can for their rivals and believes there is still a chance they can overtake them, even if they need to beat World champions Spain in Alicante on the final night of the group to do so.
"We can't finish this group on a whimper," the Manchester United midfielder said.
"The Czechs have got two difficult games but if we don't do our job then what they do is irrelevant.
"We don't want it to be us not doing our jobs and then find out they have dropped points which meant we could have qualified.
"We have got to concentrate on ourselves and make sure we take maximum points and put them under a little bit of pressure.
"It is a big task because it's out of our hands. All we can do is concentrate on ourselves and hope for a bit of luck in their games.
"We have to finish with a bang and not a whimper. We can't give up, we have to keep battling while there is still hope."
Scotland manager Craig Levein faces major selection headaches for the Hampden clash against Lithuania on Tuesday.
He will be without Miller and Scott Brown who are suspended after picking up bookings against the Czechs while there are injury doubts over Alan Hutton, Charlie Adam and Phil Bardsley and Steven Naismith is on painkillers for a hip knock.
Brighton striker Craig Mackail-Smith has already pulled out the squad leaving Levein with just Naismith and Blackburn Rovers forward David Goodwillie as his only realistic striking options.
"We've got problems but there are some guys who missed out against the Czech Republic who were really unlucky not to be included in the team," Levein said.
"This is an opportunity for them. I've banged the drum loud and hard about how the squad is improving and how the amount of players we have available is improving and that will give opportunities to other people in what will be another really important match."
Despite so many injury worries Levein says he doesn't plan to call up any replacements and will have Rangers utility man Steven Whittaker available after his one match suspension.