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Scotland can keep hopes alive with crucial win over Slovakia

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan
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World Cup qualifier
Sky Sports Main Event, 7.45pm Thursday

Scotland are coming on strong in the second half of their World Cup qualifying campaign and can take a huge step towards reaching the playoffs by beating Slovakia at Hampden Park.

The Scots have been playing catch-up since a miserable start to the campaign which included a dismal 3-0 loss to the Slovaks in Trnava last October. But they have looked a different animal in 2017, taking ten points from a possible 12.

Two more wins may be needed for Scotland to clinch second place and they will have to get the job done without first-choice midfield duo Adam Armstrong and Scott Brown, who have withdrawn from the squad with injuries.

However, likely replacements James Morrison and Barry Bannan have plenty of experience and the Scots will carry a threat in attack with Leigh Griffiths looking to add to the three goals he has scored in the last three internationals.

Griffiths is a confidence player and goes into the match with plenty of belief after scoring in Celtic's victories away to Rangers (2-0) and Anderlecht (3-0).

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Scotland will need to play at a high tempo and provide some decent service for Griffiths, who looks their most likely matchwinner.

Slovakia, who would regard a draw as a decent result, will rely on their talisman Marek Hamsik.

Without doubt Hamsik is the highest-quality player on either side but he has been quiet during qualifying, scoring twice in seven appearances.

Slovakia will be weaker than usual in the centre of the park with Inter midfielder Milan Skriniar suspended and they may struggle to hold off the Scots, who can achieve three successive qualifying victories for the first time since 1997.

1pt 31-20 bet365

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Team news
Matt Ritchie, Stuart Armstrong and Scott Brown have withdrawn with injuries and Callum McGregor has been drafted into the squad.

Inter holding midfielder Milan Skriniar misses the game through suspension. Left-back Dusan Svento and striker Michal Duris are injured.

Key stat
Scotland are unbeaten in their last five qualifiers.

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Scotland will need to play at a high tempo and provide some decent service for Griffiths, who looks their most likely matchwinner
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