Malta v Scotland

Scotland begin the long road to what they hope will be qualification for the 2018 World Cup when they take on Malta at the Ta'Qali National Stadium on Sunday evening.

The Scottish have been drawn in Group F, which also includes neighbouring England, as well as Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and, of course, Malta.

The group winners will automatically qualify for the World Cup, while the country finishing second will stand a chance to go into the play-offs as one of the eight best runners-up from the nine groups. The four play-off winners will join the eight group winners at the World Cup.

Having been paired with heavyweights such as Belgium and Croatia, as well as the likes of Serbia and Wales in their 2014 World Cup qualification, which saw Scotland finishing fourth, the Tartan Army may well feel that the 2018 draw has been slightly kinder and that qualification is a realistic goal for a team that last played at the World Cup in 1998.

The Scots also missed out on the 2016 Euros, failing to make the play-offs by three points, and are planning on using this as inspiration as they head into the latest qualifiers.

"It was painful," assistant manager Mark McGhee told the BBC. "I did my best to enjoy the Euros, but I was jealous of nations that were there.

"We're under no illusions, we've looked at the video, we've done an analysis of Malta," he said of Sunday's match.

"We know their strengths and weaknesses and we'll prepare for a difficult game but one we're determined to try to win."

Sunday's game in Malta will be the first for Scotland since the retirement of captain Scott Brown, with Darren Fletcher, who has skippered the side before, likely to take the armband.

Manager Gordon Strachan has however been hit by several injuries: Leigh Griffiths, who has been prolific for Celtic, as well as Kieran Tierney, James McArthur and Kevin McDonald, have all been forced to withdraw.

Hull City midfielder Robert Snodgrass suffered a nasty collision with the goalpost in last week's defeat to Manchester United, but is hopeful of recovering in time.

Teenage winger Oliver Burke, Scotland's most expensive signing after his £13 million summer move from Nottingham Forest to German side RB Leipzig, will be hoping to add to his two senior caps.

Malta have been the perennial whipping boys in Europe, and recent form, as well as their FIFA ranking of 176th, will surely make Scotland heavy favourites.

In the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, they managed only three points from 10 matches, finishing 10 points adrift of the second last-placed team – Armenia.

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