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5 talking points as Scotland look to bounce back against Albania

The Scots lost 4-0 to Belgium last time out.

Scotland take on Albania in their Nations League opener at Hampden Park on Monday night.

Alex McLeish’s side are looking to bounce back from the 4-0 friendly defeat by World Cup semi-finalists Belgium at the national stadium on Friday night.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at the talking points ahead of what is a crucial game for the Scots.

Getting over the Belgium bruising

The chastening 4-0 defeat by the multi-talented Red Devils was the biggest home loss in 45 years. Although McLeish rued individual errors, the result will have done nothing for morale. In his second spell as Scotland boss McLeish is looking not too fondly at a record of only one win in five games. The Belgium match will have to be quickly forgotten in the search of three valuable Nations League points. With only three teams in the group nothing else will do.

Where do the goals come from?

Matt Phillips has scored the only goal of Alex McLeish’s second spell in charge of Scotland (Tim Goode/PA).

In McLeish’s second spell as Scotland boss his side have scored one goal in five games, a Matt Phillips winner in the friendly against Hungary in March. Leigh Griffiths has recovered from a knock picked up against the Red Devils which saw him replaced by Steven Naismith, a late call-up, for the start of the second half. The Celtic striker is the top-scorer in the squad with four goals, with only five among the others. It is not clear exactly where the goals will come, but the Scots simply need to start scoring or they have little chance of reaching the 2020 European Championships.

What about Albania?

Napoli’s Elseid Hysaj plays for Albania (Scott Heavey/PA).

They are arguably one of the least known of the European teams. Rangers recently signed winger Eros Grezda from Europa League qualifying opponents Osijek, but he has yet to play for the Light Blues and was not fit enough to travel. A chunk of the Albania squad plays at a good level, though, including Napoli defender Elseid Hysaj, Egzon Binaku of Malmo and Taulant Xhaka of Basel, who scored the winner against Israel on Friday night. They have a better recent record than Scotland in qualifying for tournaments, having reached the finals of the 2016 European championships and, having got off to a flyer in Group C 1 on Friday night, they will travel to Glasgow with confidence.

Panucci returns to Hampden

Albania boss Christian Panucci scored a winning goal for Italy at Hampden in Euro 2008 qualifying (Andrew Milligan/PA).

Albania boss Christian Panucci will be back at Hampden, 10 years after scoring a goal which still rankles with Scotland fans. The former Italy defender crushed Scotland’s Euro 2008 dream when his injury-time header secured the Azzurri a 2-1 win. McLeish, in his first spell as Scotland boss, along with almost every football fan in Scotland, claimed that defender Allan Hutton had been fouled by Luca Toni seconds before. However, Spanish referee Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez awarded a free-kick to the visitors and Panucci rose to meet Andrea Pirlo’s cross to head in a winner.

Gordon or McGregor?

Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon started against Belgium (Jeff Holmes/PA).

Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon got the nod over Rangers counterpart Allan McGregor for the Belgium game and, while he could not be blamed for the 4-0 defeat, questions were asked, perhaps unfairly, about Eden Hazard’s strike which zipped past him. McGregor has been in fine form for Rangers after returning to the Ibrox club in the summer for a second spell. Whether or not he returns between the sticks will be one of McLeish’s biggest decisions as he looks for a line-up which will garner three valuable points.


From Belfast Telegraph