Scotland manager George Burley says his team are united in their quest to make a positive start to FIFA World Cup™ qualification in their match against Macedonia. The Scots travel to Skopje for their opening Group 9 match on Saturday with several key players missing due to injury.
Burley was already missing captain Barry Ferguson and Alan Hutton with long-term injuries. But over the past few days Garry O'Connor, David Weir, David Marshall, Callum Davidson, Kevin McNaughton and Kevin Thomson have also all pulled out with a variety of ailments.
The manager has drafted in Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot, Hearts midfielder Michael Stewart and Aberdeen goalkeeper Jamie Langfield to replenish the squad, which is placed 16th in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking - one place behind England.
However, Burley is confident that his team can claim their first win with him at the helm and get off to a flyer in their quest to qualify for their first major tournament since 1998. He said: "The first game of a tournament is never easy but it's where you finish that counts. We'll be going there to certainly try and get a good start.
"You're going to get injuries - that's something you've got to accept. You need a bit of luck. . We are aware it's going to be very difficult but we'll certainly be focussed and very positive and try and get a result.
"Our tactics would be the same no matter what the squad is. The personnel might be a little bit different, with some key players missing, but as far as our manner and style of play, that won't change at all."
Burley said his team would have to be at their best to beat Macedonia, who held England to a goalless draw at Old Trafford and beat Croatia in their EURO 2008 qualifying campaign. "We're looking for a solid start. Macedonia are at home and will be looking for the three points. They're going to try and take the game to us but we've got to be solid, hard to beat, composed, play to our strengths and try and give them problems.
"It's going to be a good test. We're certainly going there to be nice and positive, but we know it's going to be difficult. We know exactly how Macedonia are going to play. They've got a structure they haven't changed in two or three years. We've got to be wary of them, as they have some clever players.
"They've got experienced players that have played that system for a long time so we're aware of their strengths and that's something we've looked at. But this game has to be about what we do - not what they do. If we don't defend well or don't give them problems, we won't win. For us it is all about reaching the World Cup. You need a little bit of luck along the way and we need to perform at our maximum."
Macedonia midfielder Veliche Sumulikoski, who plays in England at Ipswich Town, one of Burley's former clubs, is looking for a confidence-boosting win ahead of facing the Netherlands on Wednesday. "We are in a very tough group, we know that, but the first two games are key for us," said Sumulikoski.
"If we can get some points from Scotland and Holland at home, it will give us a chance of achieving something in the group."
McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor
Austria-France, Argentina-Paraguay and Chile-Brazil are among the matches on the opening round of the McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up and take a shot at winning a fanstastic trip to South Africa 2010.