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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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By ESPN Staff

McLeish: Scotland stars are ready

Scotland manager Alex McLeish issued a battle cry ahead of Saturday's make-or-break Euro 2008 qualifier against Italy and declared: 'We won't bottle it.'

The waiting is almost over for the game that will determine whether 10 years in the football wilderness are about to come to an end.

Hysteria has been mounting all week as Scotland bid to defy the odds and book their place at Austria and Switzerland next summer.

A win against the world champions guarantees qualification; defeat signals the end of the dream.

But McLeish insists confidence is sky-high in the Scotland camp despite the enormity of the task that faces his players.

'There is massive belief there,' he said. 'I'm sure the players will show that tomorrow.

'They might not win this game but, I tell you what, they won't bottle it. That's for sure.

'They will certainly make sure the Italians will have a very tough game, if not the toughest they have experienced.'

The players have spent the week relaxing and preparing for the match at the national team's Cameron House hotel base by Loch Lomond.

McLeish added: 'The players have been really good, they have been pretty cool this week.

'I can sense anticipation from them now and they are really looking forward to the challenge.

'We are in a wonderful position, we are all privileged to be in this position, and we are lucky people regardless of the outcome.

'It's a fantastic education for us all and a brilliant experience for everybody. Of course, it is our intention to take the final step.

'They have experienced every emotion in this group and they have handled it. They have handled the frenzy of the media over the past few games.

'We knew with every game and every forward step that it was going to get more and more hysterical. Now we are in this final position and, if we do have a setback in the game, I wouldn't write these guys off.

'We have a wonderful opportunity. Nobody gave us a prayer of being in this position. Now that we're in it, everybody expects us to win and take care of it against the world champions. That's the expectation level.'

Asked whether he fears the attention surrounding the fixture could overwhelm the team on the day, McLeish replied: 'No, I don't think so.

'They are experienced, they have come through everything in this group, they have handled every emotion and I believe they have the mentality for it.

'If it doesn't happen, nobody will be more disappointed than the players and the backroom staff. But we don't fear failure and hopefully they will go out and give the performances of their lives.'

The Italians are certain to be apprehensive about tomorrow's clash.

Reports on Friday claimed that a man filming Thursday's closed-doors training session may have been a 'spy'.

But McLeish said: 'I know it happens in world football, where you try to get an edge and an advantage over your opponents.

'It's not something I would lose sleep over. We continued with the training session and there was nothing to see anyway, if it's true.'

Instead, the Scotland boss is fully focused on what could be the biggest achievement of his managerial career.

'You can only dream about the final outcome,' he said. 'I know it would probably be the pinnacle for me.'

He added: 'I believe it's a great tribute to us that the country appreciates what the players have done.

'It doesn't matter what happens, they will still appreciate the players because we have certainly captured the imagination of the nation, and this is why we have had all the fantastic goodwill over the last few months culminating in this fantastic game before us tomorrow.'

Despite his attempts to shield his players from the frenzy surrounding the build-up to the match, McLeish admitted he has been less successful himself.

'My phone is in meltdown,' he smiled. 'There is no doubt about it. I've tried to ignore it for a couple of days.

'Those people who are hanging on for tickets, it's going to be tough now!'


• US-based users will be able to watch the match LIVE on (ESPN 360