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Scotland can clinch crucial three points

Slovenians hard to trust on their travels

Scotland starlet Oliver Burke
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World Cup qualifier
Sky Sports 1, 7.45pm Sunday

Scotland's home match against Slovenia looks one they must win to have realistic hope of reaching Russia 2018 and Gordon Strachan's side can respond by taking a vital three points.

Very little has gone right for the Scots so far.

They needed an 89th-minute goal from James McArthur to rescue a 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania and further damage was done with by 3-0 defeats away to Slovakia and England in October and November.

Scotland had always suspected they might be in a battle with Slovakia and Slovenia to finish second, but a loss to the second-placed Slovenians would probably leave them seven points adrift of the top two with half of the campaign gone.

Getting strong results against in the three remaining matches against Slovakia and Slovenia is essential and they are worth backing to take the first step.

Slovenia looked a decent side in their 0-0 draw at home to England but are not a team to trust on their travels.

Of their last ten away fixtures they have won just twice, 2-0 against San Marino and 1-0 against Malta.

They drew 2-2 away to Lithuania last September and lost 1-0 to Estonia during their unsuccessful attempt to reach Euro 2016.

Slovenia rely a lot on the creativity of Fiorentina attacking midfielder Josep Ilicic.

Ilicic was outstanding in 2015-16, scoring 13 league goals, but has notched just four times in Serie A this term and has been in and out of the Viola's starting line-ups.

In recent years the main beneficiary of Ilicic's invention has been 37-year-old target man Milivoje Novakovic, who is Slovenia's record goalscorer with 31 goals in 79 internationals.

But Novakovic's best days are behind him and he has become a less important figure, making just one start and two substitute appearances in the World Cup qualifiers.

There is no obvious candidate to replace Novakovic and the second-highest scorer in the squad is veteran centre-back and captain Bostjan Cesar with ten goals.

Cesar is part of a well-organised back four and Slovenia possess a high quality last line of defence in Jan Oblak who has played in a Champions League final for Atletico Madrid.

Scotland are another side hampered by a lack of quality in attack.

Strachan's squad features three Sky Bet Championship strikers (Jordan Rhodes, Steven Fletcher and Chris Martin) and Celtic forward Leigh Griffiths, who has spent most of the season on the Bhoys' bench.

But there are plenty of goal threats from wide areas. Wingers Matt Ritchie and Robert Snodgrass have shown an eye for goal in English football but are coming under pressure for their places from Olivier Burke, an emerging talent at Leipzig, and Ryan Fraser, who is establishing himself as an important player for Bournemouth.

Strachan's problem is that his best players seem to be in the same area of the pitch.

However, Scotland are capable of better than they have showed in the early stages of qualifying and can get the win over Slovenia that they so desperately need.

1pt 7-5 Betway, BetBright, Hills

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Team news
David Marshall, Matt Phillips, James McArthur and Grant Hanley have pulled out of the squad with injuries. James Morrison is an injury doubt.

Jan Oblak has fully recovered from the shoulder injury which ruled him out of January friendly matches against Saudi Arabia and Finland.

Key stat
Slovenia have scored fewer than two goals in 11 of their last 13 matches.

Scotland are capable of better than they have showed in the early stages of qualifying
E.W. Terms
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