19:45 (BST); Thursday 5th October; Hampden Park (Glasgow); Sky Sports main event
Scotland come into their last home game of the qualifying period needing three points. Sitting in fourth, a win on Thursday could propel them up to second in Group F and in a position to win a playoff spot come Sunday’s trip to Ljubljana to face Slovenia.
The Slovaks sit in second place in Group F, needing a win to have any chance of catching England for automatic qualification. They are just a point ahead of Scotland, so a draw is fine, especially with a home tie against Malta waiting for them on Sunday.
Last time out
Scotland 2-0 Malta
Christophe Berra headed home a Leigh Griffiths’ corner in the ninth minute to give Scotland the lead over the minnows of the group, but failing to rack up goals ended up hurting them in the standings, as they dropped behind Slovenia on goal difference and are well back of Slovakia goal difference, which could be vital come the end of the weekend.
Slovakia 1-2 England
Slovakia took an early lead against England as Stanislav Lobotka pounced on some shoddy defending and netted after just three minutes, but the hosts couldn’t hold on as England came roaring back. Eric Dier swept home a Marcus Rashford corner before the Manchester United winger then powered home a winner at the hour mark. The loss put Slovakia’s hopes of automatic qualification out of their hands and dropped them into range of both Slovenia and Scotland.
Both Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong have had to withdraw from the squad due to injury, and Matt Ritchie is also unavailable for both games this week.
Slovakia have a full squad to choose from on Thursday and are unlikely to use anything other than their well-drilled 4-2-3-1 formation at Hampden Park.
Key Battle: Marek Hamsik vs Darren Fletcher & James McArthur
The Slovakian talisman has been in fine form for club and country. He is still pulling the strings at Napoli, who sit atop Serie A with a 100% record, and while he has only scored once and has one assist, his distribution and vision have again been vital to the success of both Napoli and Slovakia.
It will be up to Darren Fletcher and James McArthur to deny Hamsik time and space and make sure he can't bring the rest of the team into play. Slovakia need Hamsik's talents to keep Adam Nemec connected to the rest of the side and ensure Vladimir Weiss and Robert Mak don't get isolated out wide.
If Scotland can keep Hamsik quiet, it will go a long way to ensuring they keep a clean sheet on Thursday.
Must win mentality
Scotland need six points from their last two qualifiers if they want any chance of going to Russia next year, and as a result they can't go into this game with an overly defensive mindset.
Scotland's natural course of things is to focus primarily on the clean sheet, and hope a goal will come along at some point. They can't play this game with that mentality.
Scotland must put the ball in the back of the net. That means getting the likes of Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney forward to stretch the Slovakia backline and help open up space for Robert Snodgrass and Leigh Griffiths to operate.
Prediction: Scotland 1-1 Slovakia
Scotland will huff and puff, and they will get a goal, but in doing so I think they will leave themselves open to the talents Slovakia do have going forward. I don't think either side keeps a clean sheet in this one.
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