Scotland midfielder Barry Bannan believes the national team are ready to confound expectations and finally end their dismal sequence of failure to qualify for a major tournament finals.
Despite opening the 2018 World Cup campaign with a 5-1 win in Malta, Scotland are still firmly rated as outsiders to progress from a group which also includes England, Slovakia, Slovenia and Lithuania.
Bannan accepts that many Scotland fans will be among those who anticipate what would be a tenth consecutive unsuccessful attempt to reach the finals of the World Cup or European Championship since the country’s last appearance on the main stage back in 1998. But the Sheffield Wednesday midfielder, who was one of the stand-out performers for Gordon Strachan’s side in Malta, insists he and his team-mates can triumph in Group F which continues with Lithuania’s visit to Hampden tomorrow night.
“You try not to listen to anyone who says we won’t qualify,” said Bannan. “It’s about what we think. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
“We can definitely do it. We’ve got a lot of experience in that dressing room, guys who have played in three or four campaigns now, so we have a mix of that experience and some younger boys coming through.
“We speak among ourselves about it and we are confident of doing something really good in this qualifying group. What we have to do is concentrate on the positives from the last game in Malta. We are quietly confident we have enough in the squad to win the game on Saturday.
“I don’t know if people are running out of patience with us because we didn’t qualify for the European Championship finals in France this year.
“But all we can concentrate on is ourselves, not all the other nations who made it there. There were still a lot of positives to take from that campaign. We were probably one result away from being in the play-offs.
“When people see all the other teams going, especially the other home nations, they do expect us to qualify too. They feel we should be there if the rest of them are there. But all we can do is focus on ourselves and on trying to reach the next one.”
Bannan, meanwhile, is eager to stake his claim for the central midfield role vacated by former captain Scott Brown’s retirement from international football this summer.
The 26-year-old was a surprise selection in that position against Malta but his performance fully vindicated manager Strachan’s choice.
“I’m definitely after Scott’s place in the team but there are a lot of other players in the same boat,” said Bannan.
“The manager has a choice of four or five players who can come in and play in that position. That’s why training is so important when you join up with Scotland. It’s been proven in the past that, if you can impress during training, he’ll give you a shot in the games. That makes every day important – I’m fighting every day to try to push myself into the starting eleven.”