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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Scotland should secure second place in style

Scotland players celebrate against Slovakia
1 of 1

World Cup qualifier
Sky Sports Football/Main Event, 5pm Sunday

Scotland have staged a remarkable turnaround in Group F and should be backed to clinch second place by beating Slovenia in Ljubljana.

Few nations have experienced glorious failure as much as the Scots but they go into their latest crunch fixture in high spirits after Martin Skrtel's 89th-minute own goal secured a well deserved 1-0 victory at home to Slovakia on Thursday.

Their upbeat mood is likely to be the opposite of the atmosphere among Slovenia's players.

Mathematically, Slovenia still have a chance of reaching the playoffs but their players appeared resigned to their fate after Harry Kane's 94th-minute goal condemned them to a 1-0 defeat at Wembley on Thursday.

International previews

Lithuania v England

Slovenia v Scotland

Norway v N Ireland

Slovenia lost that game because they were trying to win it. Goalkeeper Jan Oblak was a fault with a risky throw-out but his gamble was entirely understandable because only a win would have kept their fate in their own hands.

As it stands, Slovenia need to beat the Scots and hope for Malta to win away to Slovakia.

Scotland's task is far more straightforward and there is no value in settling for a draw, which would not be enough should the Slovaks prevail.

With Scotland and Slovenia needing to win, the scene is set for an open game which should be very different to the tactical fare served up at Wembley three days ago.

Slovenia are used to playing a cautious, counter-attacking style and have conceded just five goals in the group, second only to England.

But their back four may be more exposed against the Scots because key midfielders Kevin Kampl and Rene Krhin are unavailable.

Krhin caught the eye with a dogged performance against England but picked up a yellow card which triggered a one-game ban. Kampl was left out of the original squad due to differences with head coach Srecko Katanec.

Suspended attacking midfielder Valter Birsa is another notable absentee and the understrength hosts are likely to rely heavily on attacking midfielder Josep Ilicic, who is their star outfield player, and world-class goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

Scotland were almost denied by a goalkeeping masterclass on Thursday with Slovakia custodian Martin Dubravka pulling off some stunning saves.

However, the Scots kept their foot on the gas and achieved the win their performance deserved.

There had been concerns that Scotland would miss the midfield drive of injured pair Scott Brown and Craig Armstrong but Barry Bannan justified his recall with an energetic and mature performance, showing why he has become a firm favourite with Sheffield Wednesday supporters.

Scotland are clearly lacking world-class players but they play some neat football and there has been an honesty and tempo about their performances which makes them tough to play against.

Their haul of 13 points from a possible 15 this year is a fantastic effort and they can make it 16 from 18 against a Slovenia side whose race is almost run.

1pt 7-4 Betfred, Betway

Team news
Attacking midfielder Valter Birsa and holding midfielder Rene Krhin miss out through suspension.

Matt Ritchie, Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong withdrew from the original squad and have been joined on the sidelines by injured winger Ryan Fraser. Andrew Robertson (wrist) is expected to continue.

Key stat
Scotland have won four of their last five matches.

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Scotland have won four of their last five matches
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