Confidence the key to Scotland’s World Cup dream staying alive

Ikechi Anya says the power of positive thinking can fire Scotland to the World Cup.

Gordon Strachan’s side face make-or-break clashes with Slovakia and Slovenia this week as they fight to keep their play-off hopes alive.

Yet just 12 months ago the prospect of the Scots still being in contention at this stage seemed altogether unlikely.

A meagre tally of just four points from the first 12 available left Strachan’s men facing the largest of uphill struggles.

But having watched the side claw themselves back into the fight for second spot in Group F, Anya has hailed the belief in the Scotland stars who refused to waver even in the dark days of a challenging campaign.

“You’ve always got to be positive,” said the Derby wideman. “There’s no point on dwelling on the past.

“Obviously we didn’t make the best start to the group but had we dwelt on that too much and thought to ourselves, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to do it’, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now.

“We always had the confidence that if we addressed certain things then we could be in a good position. That’s what we did, and now just bring on these last two games.”

The odds remain stacked against Strachan’s team, though.

After beating Lithuania and Malta, to guarantee the runners-up slot Scotland need to extend their run to four wins in a row – a feat the Scots have not managed in competitive action since 2007.

That would have been hard enough with a full squad, but injuries to the Celtic pair of Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong as well as Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie have significantly weakened the manager’s hand.

But Anya hopes the feel-good factor generated by last month’s back-to-back wins might just be enough to see the Scots through.

He said: “There’s always pressure in international football but you thrive off it. These are the games you want to play in.

“I’ve been part of the squad since 2013 and I think we’re going from strength to strength.

“You could see in the last meet-up that we’re now playing as a cohesive unit. Everybody knows what needs to be done.

“We’re in a good position going into the final games with things in our hands. We’re grateful for this as we’ve worked hard to get here. Now we hope to see it over the line this time.

Kieran Tierney's form for Celtic could see Ikechi Anya start on the bench
Kieran Tierney’s form for Celtic could see Ikechi Anya start on the bench (Adam Davy/PA)

“Momentum is massive. You want to be the team going in with full confidence and not on the back foot. We’ve peaked at the right time.”

The impressive form of Celtic’s Kieran Tierney means Anya will probably have to be content with a seat on the bench when the Slovakians arrive at Hampden on Thursday.

But the 29-year-old insists he is more than happy to play his part as cheerleader-in-chief.

“Kieran’s been brilliant,” Anya said. “His first performance at right-back was a few months back against Slovenia at home and he marshalled their winger perfectly.

“As long as he’s putting in performances like that for Scotland I’m pretty sure he won’t mind if he’s playing left or right.

“We’ve obviously got another great player on the other side in Andy Robertson so it’s a good problem for the gaffer.”

Source: By PA Sport Staff


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