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McLeish hopes to ride the wave of Old Firm success

Scotland’s reputation as an international force may not be intimidating enough to bring the superpowers to heel, but they are showing the potential to become as irritating as a stone in their shoe.

Celtic and Rangers secured results in the final qualifying round of the Champions League in midweek which carry the strong possibility Authentic Prada Handbags Wholesale of progress to the group phase replica prada clutches and evening, while the national team, mixing it with the most formidable nations on the Continent in the Bicester Village Prada Store Number quest for a place at Euro 2008, remain in serious contention in their section.

These are heady times compared with the frequently depressing experiences of the past nine years, although the teams representing the clubs, it should be emphasised, have tended to carry the banner more honourably than those wearing the dark blue of the country.

The last two years of Craig Brown’s long tenure as Scotland manager, 1999-2001 and the only two of Berti Vogts, 2002-04, were, unarguably, the bleakest in modern history. As a consequence, Alex McLeish, building on the resurgence initiated by Vogts’ successor, Walter Smith, is seeking the considerable distinction of taking the Scots to their first championship in a decade.

Smith, having returned to Rangers, is currently effecting another resuscitation, the objective of which is to give the Ibrox club access to the mighty revenue stream that flows through Europe’s premier tournament.

If the 1-0 victory over Crvena Zvevda last Tuesday – on an 89th-minute goal from substitute Nacho Novo – was gained through a performance that Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Shoes Sale was less exhilarating than their supporters would have wished, it was, following the 2-0 and 1-0 wins over FK Zeta, the third match they had played in the qualifying rounds without conceding a goal. It is a statistic that augurs well for the trip to Belgrade next week.

Celtic’s 1-1 draw with Spartak in Moscow has, predictably, made them favourites for qualification for the next stage, at a stroke transforming the widespread perception of the tie from a daunting obstacle into a hurdle the height of a molehill.

Anticipation of success for both members of the Old Firm may yet prove to have been unjustified, but a certain optimism is well-founded. With the clubs free of commitments this week, the national team is afforded an opportunity to offer further evidence of their progress in the friendly against South Africa at Pittodrie on Wednesday.

McLeish has omitted from his squad a number of players engaged in the Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Outlet Online Champions League with Celtic Authentic Prada Gauffre and Rangers who could be considered regular first choices. He is insistent, though, that the fixture will be of substantial value for a number of reasons.

Not least is its timing, just two-and-a-half weeks before the first leg of the Euro 2008 qualifying double-header that brings Lithuania to Hampden Park and takes the Scots to France. There is also the return of James McFadden, the Everton forward Agata Ruiz De La Prada Shop On Line who has yet to work with McLeish, and the Agatha Ruiz Prada Online Shop drafting of a group of players who are newly arrived in the Premier League in England.

‘It’s a very encouraging sign,’ said McLeish, ‘that we now have a heavy presence of players from the Old Firm and the top league in England, all competing at a very high level. Even without Paul Hartley, Barry Ferguson and David Weir, we still have eight from Celtic and Rangers and nine from the Premier League.

‘It’s not so Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Online Shopping long since we had none from the top division in England. I realise the number Authentic Prada Wallet For Sale Philippines has increased mainly on the back of promoted clubs and recent moves south by home-based players [three from Derby County, two from Sunderland, one from Birmingham City], but it means that all these lads will be gaining experience at the highest level.

‘It’s a valuable exercise for us to be playing South Africa because it is so close to the European qualifiers,’ he added. ‘And they’ll be a good test, as they are preparing to host the next World Cup. Their players will have incentive enough from that.’

South Africa, now coached by the Brazilian, Carlos Alberto Parreira, draw a substantial number of their players from England, Germany, Russia and Denmark, hinting at the possibility of a serious test for the Scots. The striker, Sibusiso Zuma, of Arminia Bielefeld, in Germany, comes with a tall reputation, as does Steven Pienaar, the midfielder signed recently Apertura Outlet Prada Montevarchi by Everton on loan from Borussia Dortmund.

Completing the treble of good performances over foreign opponents following on from Celtic and Rangers will be more effective than the weather in convincing Scots that it is actually summertime.