Scotland ‘must be fully focused or risk being embarrassed’

Christophe Berra hard at work during Scotland training. Picture: SNS
Christophe Berra hard at work during Scotland training. Picture: SNS
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Mark McGhee has warned the Scotland players they could face embarrassment if they adopt an end-of-term approach to the matches against Italy and France.

The Scots gathered at their Renfrewshire base yesterday and will fly to Malta on Saturday, facing the Italians on Sunday night in Valletta.

Gordon Strachan’s squad will remain in Malta, where they will play their opening 2018 World Cup qualifier later this year, for a week of warm weather training before moving on to take on Euro 2016 hosts France in Metz on 4 June.

End-of-season challenge matches have proved problematic for Scotland in the past, most recently four years ago when Craig Levein’s side were humbled 5-1 by USA in Jacksonville. But assistant manager McGhee, pictured, is confident there will be no lack of focus or application for the forthcoming games against high profile opponents.

“If the players come into it anything less than fully cocked, they are going to get embarrassed,” said McGhee. “The quality of the opposition helps. After the season the players have had and the disappointment of not qualifying for the Euros, Gordon was conscious of not asking them to come and play against lesser opposition.

“That is something the players would have found it difficult to get too motivated for. But Italy and France and fantastic teams to get the opportunity to play against, while their quality focuses the mind. The players know they have to be up for it.

“That makes this training camp a focused, 
concentrated and professional experience. This morning, the players were at it and the mood seems to be all about talking about the games and the opposition. There is no chat about tiredness, holidays or long seasons. It’s simply about the games and the excitement of playing against these teams.

“Gordon knows it’s the end of the season and knows the boys have all had hard seasons and need a break, so we will get as much work into them as we feel is possible.

“If that requires a bit of downtime, they will get the downtime. I don’t know if they will be playing golf or anything like that, but we certainly won’t over-train them. We have a lot of back-up in the form of sports science in the doctors and the physios and so on to advise us. But the idea would be to get as much work as possible done in preparation for the up and coming World Cup campaign. It’s a training camp, not a holiday camp.”

No replacements have been called up for the injured trio of Aston Villa full-back Alan Hutton, Rangers captain Lee Wallace and Derby County striker Chris Martin who withdrew from the squad on Tuesday night.

Scotland will also be without Sheffield Wednesday winger Barry Bannan and the Hull City quartet of Allan McGregor, Andrew Robertson, Shaun Maloney and Robert Snodgrass for the Italy match as they are involved in the English Championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday evening.

“The plan is they will come and join us for the training week and the 
second game,” said McGhee.

“We won’t be calling anyone else up, we’ll go with what we have. We still have 18 outfield players for the Italy match.”