The hope is that Scotland can repel the English strikeforce when they venture over the border next weekend but Christophe Berra believes it would be naive to think they can do so without weathering a tough evening.
The new Hearts captain, who has spent the past eight years playing his football in the English leagues, knows the calibre of opposition Gordon Strachan’s men will be up against and he says that while the aim is to shackle them for as long as possible, the likelihood is that they will need to rely on some good fortune as well.
The English Premier League’s top goalscorer, Harry Kane, is favourite to lead the line but Gareth Southgate also has Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and Jermain Defoe in the squad, with the likes of Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Co offering an attacking threat from midfield.
“These players are there for a reason. They’ve got instincts that are different to everyone else. You aren’t going to dominate a striker for the whole 90 minutes. You try to do it as long as possible and, if he does get a chance, you hope the keeper is there to pull you out of it, or your fellow defenders.”
But asked how the home side do set out to halt Kane, Berra admitted he is clearer on the conundrum facing them than he is on solutions.
“Good question. After his first season when he scored lots of goals people were questioning whether he could do it again. I think he’s done it three seasons in a row now so he’s a top player. He’s playing in a great Tottenham side with a lot of good, young, English players who will no doubt be in England’s starting line-up as well. So, they all know each other’s game and we’re going to need to be at 110 per cent and have a bit of lady luck on our side. Hopefully we get off to a good start with a good performance, stay on the front foot and make Hampden an intimidating place.
“Yes, it’s going to be a tough game, their squad is littered with top-class players and we will no doubt go in as underdogs as usual. But it’s at Hampden and we’ve had big results there before. Why can’t we do it again?
“It’s all to play for. If we win, it gives the table a whole different outlook to the table, and to the way the fans and the press are thinking.”
The nature of the Auld Enemy rivalry means that while England are top of the qualifying group, and the points are less vital to them, the motivation remains strong. “Some people say that [it means more to Scotland]. Technically, yes. But don’t tell me it doesn’t mean as much to England. These players are playing at a high level for a reason.
“They go out to produce in every game and play for the best teams in the league. They have their personal pride and aren’t there because they slacken off, they’re there because they’re good professionals and I’m sure the manager will have them well drilled.”