Scotland were offered a glimmer of hope for their crunch 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier against the Netherlands at Hampden Park tonight with the news that Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg is likely to be sidelined by a finger injury.
The second-placed Scots probably need all three points against the runaway Group 9 winners if they are to have any chance of a play-off spot. With James McFadden suspended and first-choice goalkeeper Craig Gordon struggling with a thigh injury, the odds are stacking up against George Burley's side.
But after the Netherlands trained at Hampden last night, coach Bert van Marwijk revealed Stekelenburg had not recovered as well as expected and would have to face a late fitness test. If the Ajax goalkeeper is ruled out, the Dutch boss has to choose between rookies Michel Vorm - who plays for Utrecht - and Vitesse Arnhem's Piet Velthuizen.
Both played a half each in Saturday's 3-0 friendly win against Japan - although it is the former, whose two caps have come in friendlies, who is set to play in his first competitive international. However, van Marwijk was relaxed about thrusting an inexperienced goalkeeper in front of a 50,000-plus crowd at Hampden.
"We hoped that Stekelenburg would have recovered better than he did, so it is doubtful," he said. "But when the first goalkeeper can't play, then the second goalkeeper comes in - and I have confidence in him."
Van Marwijk warned Scotland not to expect any favours tonight as they seek to make history by becoming the first Dutch side to complete a clean sweep of victories in a qualification campaign. The Netherlands boss, who revealed midfielder Wesley Sneijder has recovered from an ankle injury picked up against Japan, said: "Winning all eight games is an extra motivation for me. The players also have that extra motivation. We also have a responsibility to Norway and Macedonia.
"It is a serious game for us, and so the best players will play. We saw Scotland beat Macedonia on Saturday, and they put in a good performance - and now this is their last chance. It will be a special game, and there will be a great atmosphere."