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Alex McLeish calls for Scottish swagger ahead of Costa Rica game

McLeish’s first game in charge comes against Costa Rica.

Alex McLeish wants to bring a “swagger” back to Scotland’s play.

The 77-times capped defender begins his second Scotland reign against a team which inflicted one of the country’s most painful defeats.

McLeish was in a Scotland side which was ravaged by fear as they lost 1-0 against the unknowns of Costa Rica in their opening World Cup game of 1990.

But the Central Americans are not huge underdogs in the second meeting between the teams at Hampden on Friday. Costa Rica recently qualified for their fifth World Cup finals while Scotland have gone 20 years without making a major tournament.

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Alex McLeish oversees Scotland training at Hampden with coach James McFadden

McLeish feels his team have to regain their bullishness before they can end that exile.

Scotland were unbeaten in 2017 but failure to make the World Cup play-offs and the departure of Gordon Strachan has seen McLeish bring a fresh look to his squad. Nine players are in line for their debuts, including 21-year-olds Scott McTominay, Oli McBurnie and Scott McKenna.

And the former Rangers manager wants a fresh mentality.

“We want to qualify for the Euros,” he said. “That’s our number one goal and we will never have that out of our minds. It’s not something to worry about, it’s something to face head on and embrace.

“We want to get a bit of bravado back into people’s mentality and believe they can compete with the best teams in Europe and the world.”

McLeish wants the opposite approach to the attitude that prevailed ahead of that fateful first game against Costa Rica in Genoa.

“I remember it well,” he said. “We were a bit apprehensive going into that game. We thought the goalkeeper was a weak point, we bombarded him with crosses and I think he took 17 out of 20. It was a great performance by him.

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Juan Cayasso scored the only goal past Jim Leighton when Costa Rica and Scotland first met

“I don’t think we were at our best, we were maybe a bit apprehensive about losing the game rather than embracing the fact that we have got to win this. We were more scared of losing and I think that edginess was a key factor.

“And that’s what I want our guys to eliminate from their minds, and when they go into games to be gallus if you like – believe in yourself as a Scottish player. These guys are in the squad on merit, been playing very well for their clubs, and that’s why we chose them.”

The 59-year-old added: “I’ve felt in recent years that we maybe haven’t had that swagger. I don’t think that’s the only difference we want to try and make. We went through the last year undefeated and we were so close to the play-offs, but we have got to find a way to go one better than that.

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Scotland missed out on World Cup qualification

“Very often you get young players coming in and playing with no inhibitions whatsoever, and maybe a part of their career comes along when they start thinking about everything. I want them to be clear in their minds, that there is only one mission here, and that’s to play at their top level.

“When we don’t have the ball they have to recover quickly, they have to close down quickly. If we can’t close down then we gather together as a group to make sure we are difficult to beat as well.

“But when we have the ball we will look to express and hopefully play as expansively as the opposition will allow us.”

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