Scotland can begin their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign in the ideal manner by winning away to Malta on Sunday.
Our best bet for this match: Scotland to win and over 2.5 goals in the match (combined bet) at 13/10 with Paddy Power
Gordon Strachan can, of course, look forward to leading the Scots into World Cup qualifying battles against the Auld Enemy, England, in November and June as well as matches against Slovakia, Slovenia and Lithuania.
Having been the only team from the five within the British Isles to miss out on Euro 2016, Scotland will be extra determined to get to Russia especially as they looked on course to reach France until a very costly 1-0 defeat away to Georgia last September.
It’s the supposed lesser opponents that the men from north of the border have often had difficulty against down the years, and Malta represent something of a banana skin because they are certainly not the pushover they would have been at one time.
While it’s very difficult to see the Maltese ‘doing an Iceland’ any time soon and qualifying for a major tournament, let alone reaching the quarter-finals at the expense of a perceived giant such as England, they gained a draw away to Bulgaria in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and went down only 1-0 both times against Italy and also to Croatia.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan (Getty Images)
Therefore, they could be difficult to break down at their national stadium in Ta’ Qali and Strachan may well be disappointed to be without striker Leigh Griffiths, who has scored seven goals in nine appearances for Celtic this season but has pulled out with a hamstring injury.
Also missing are his young club colleague Kieran Tierney and midfield duo James McArthur and Kevin McDonald, while Scott Brown recently announced his retirement from international duty.
Darren Fletcher is expected to captain the team, while in Griffiths’ absence Strachan is expected to rely on goals from Steven Fletcher of Sheffield Wednesday and Steven Naismith, who at the time of writing was being strongly linked with a Transfer Deadline Day move to Sunderland.
Malta’s squad all play domestically except for a defender who plies his trade in the Italian third tier and also Luke Gambin, a midfielder for Barnet in English League Two.
Despite being resilient, the team from the Mediterranean island, who are unsurprisingly nicknamed the Falcons, should be outclassed by Scotland and we are counting on the travelling Tartan Army being able to cheer at least a couple of goals.
Scotland to win and over 2.5 goals in the match (combined bet) @ 13/10 with Paddy Power
Scotland HT/FT @ 6/5 with Coral