Football Expert & Columnist
A strong start at home is crucial to Scotland's World Cup qualification hopes, says Andy Walker.
Last Updated: 03/09/12 2:07pm
As I mingled with the thousands of people who joined me competing in Glasgow's Half-Marathon yesterday, every football fan I spoke to only had one thing on their mind.
How are Scotland going to fare in their quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil?
Craig Levein's men begin their qualifying campaign on Saturday with a Hampden clash against Serbia and follow it up with another home game on Tuesday against Macedonia.
In what should be a tight group, it's absolutely essential Scotland make use of the fabulous backing from a demanding Tartan Army and look to secure maximum points from the opening two fixtures.
With games against Wales, Belgium and Croatia to follow, home form will go a long way to determine whether Scotland can get to their first major finals since France 1998.
But they have every right to be confident.
The Scotland squad is full of players with plenty of Barclays Premier League experience, not to mention the cut and thrust of the Champions League.
Playing regularly at that level, Gary Caldwell, Sean Maloney, Charlie Adam, Steven Naismith and James Morrison can be their influential players, while Kenny Miller now has new Blackburn signing Jordan Rhodes pushing him for a starting place. Scotland look like a team that can be solid at the back and creative going forward.
The one disappointing aspect affecting the hope of getting to Brazil 2014 is the startling omission of Steven Fletcher, Sunderland's new £14million man.
When he put pen to paper for Martin O'Neill, he became the most expensive Scottish player in history but his relationship with Craig Levein broke down long ago.
Fletcher was undoubtedly immature in texting an SFA official to say he didn't want to play for Scotland under Levein but it seems to me there's been no real effort to put that daft episode to one side for the benefit of the national team.
I don't believe for a second that Steven Fletcher doesn't really care about whether or not he could play on the greatest stage of all for your country.
One look at his debut goals in last weekend's 2-2 draw for the Black Cats at Swansea shows how much we could do with a player of that talent in front of goal. He is the most mobile front man with a lovely technique and crucially, he has an instinct for being in the right place at the right time.
Similarly, Celtic's Kris Commons has also been surprisingly left out of the squad.
In my view, Commons has started the season in top form, scoring a magnificent volley in the Champions League qualifier against Helsingborgs and will have a spring in his step at the prospect of competing in the Celtic's Champions League group stage with Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow. I think he deserves to be in the squad.
With Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic playing in the same defensive unit as Manchester City's Aleksander Kolorov, Serbia will be tough to break down.
If Scotland can be creative and show some imagination in the last third, they can start with a win and make the Scotland fans forget about Fletcher and Commons but, believe me, if Scotland start the campaign with a couple of blanks, the clamour for answers to the Fletcher problem and the omission of Commons will intensify.
On Thursday night, I'm looking forward to co-commentating on Scotland's U-21 clash with Luxembourg at the home of St Mirren, live on Sky.
Two wins from their final two games against Luxembourg and Austria four days later will give them a chance of progressing to the play-offs. Again, Billy Stark has plenty of creative talent in the hope of securing all six points.
Dundee Utd's Johnny Russell and Celtic's Tony Watt are more than capable in front of goal but I'm sure they'd be the first to applaud the type of service given to them by Bolton's Gregg Wylde and West Brom's Scott Allan.