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Fletcher dreams of Scots in Russia as Southgate hopes for evolution


By Robert Jones

Darren Fletcher hopes his days of suffering heartache with Scotland are finally behind him.

The stand-in skipper put on a leader's performance as he marshalled Gordon Strachan's men to a crucial win over Slovakia at Hampden on Thursday night.

The 1-0 victory - sealed by Martin Skrtel's late own goal -now sets up the Scots for a make-or-break clash with Slovenia on Sunday.

Victory will guarantee them second spot and should be enough to book a slot in the play-offs.

Having missed out on a host of major tournaments down the years with the national team, 79-cap veteran Fletcher is determined to take his place at next year's World Cup in Russia.

"I'm probably the member of the squad who has suffered the most heartache playing for Scotland," the 33-year-old Stoke midfielder said. "I've been so close a few times in these final games only for them to go against us.

"I'm not getting any younger and I know there's not too many chances left, so Sunday's match is vitally important.

"But it means just as much to the rest of the boys as it does to me and it means just as much to the whole country.

"I've reiterated how important this game will be to the rest of the lads - but you've got to get a fine balance between making sure that we're calm and we believe in ourselves and we're not going over there going crazy. "

Meanwhile, Gareth Southgate knows England have to improve but has warned there is only so much that can be achieved before the World Cup.

The win against Slovenia ensured qualification for the finals with a match to spare, yet the manner of the 1-0 defeat of Slovenia underlined concerns about the Three Lions.

Enthusiasm for the national team continues to wane and Southgate has previously warned there is "no magic wand" to improve matters.

The manager said: "We know we need to evolve the team and there's a desire to evolve the team, but also we had to keep winning to qualify because for any of the young players to improve, they've got to go to a World Cup.

"It was imperative. They have to go to a World Cup.

"In some areas, we think we can look at different things. In some areas we know where we want to evolve towards and some of that can happen before we go to Russia."

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