FOOTBALL: Craig Levein leads his men into action at Hampden knowing that the opening two fixtures in the group — both home ties — will shape the destiny of the Scots’ bid to qualify for the finals in Brazil.
Attempting to take their place at a major international tournament for the first time in 16 years, Scotland kick off their section against Serbia tomorrow, followed by the visit of Macedonia on Tuesday.
The manager has warned the Tartan Army of the dangers ahead, calling the Serbs “tricky” opponents and describing the rest of Group A — which also includes Belgium, Croatia and Wales — as “very hard.”
In their previous five World Cup campaigns over the last two decades the Scots have only once won an opening group match — away to Latvia back in 2000 — a statistic they will be desperate to improve upon.
Their camp has made it clear they intend to play at a high tempo from the off against technically superior opponents, offering the narrow 3-2 defeat against Spain during Euro 2012 qualification as a template.
Levein is expected to use a fluid 4-1-4-1 formation with Kenny Miller acting as the lone striker.
Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker, Phil Bardsley, Danny Fox, Russell Martin and Celtic’s Charlie Mulgrew have all been ruled out while first choice goalkeeper, Allan McGregor remains a doubt after admitting he’s yet to recover fully from a groin injury.
Bristol City’s Ricky Foster has come into the squad as defensive cover and Christophe Berra — expected to start beside Andy Webster in central defence — has joined up after his partner gave birth to a baby girl.
In the run-up to the match the highly experienced Serbian squad have been upbeat, confidently predicting they’ll be able to return home undefeated.
With Nemania Vidic retired, Manchester City’s new signing Matija Nastasic is likely to feature at the back, an area which remains a strength for the visitors.
But having scored only one goal in their last four outings their coach Sinisa Mihajlovic will look to former Manchester United winger Zoran Tosic to provide chances for Milos Ninkovic in attack.