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Hutchison wary of Lithuania

Published: Tuesday 1 April 2003, 20.00CET
Don Hutchison says that surprise Group 5 leaders Scotland should not get carried away just yet.
Published: Tuesday 1 April 2003, 20.00CET

Hutchison wary of Lithuania

Don Hutchison says that surprise Group 5 leaders Scotland should not get carried away just yet.
by Adrian Clarke

Last September Scotland scrambled an embarrassing 2-2 draw against the Faroe Islands. Six months on, Berti Vogts' side are the surprise leaders of UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 5 ahead of Wednesday's match against Lithuania in Kaunas.

Qualification chance
A 2-1 win against Iceland at Hampden Park on Saturday, coupled with Germany's shock 1-1 home draw against Lithuania, has sent Scotland to the top of the group and dramatically increased their chances of qualification.

New era
Scotland had endured a shaky start under the stewardship of former German national coach Vogts, but two wins against Iceland have restored morale and Saturday's first international goals from promising youngsters Kenny Miller and Lee Wilkie have even led to thoughts of a new golden era for the Tartan Army.

Hutchison caution
One of Scotland's more experienced players, 31-year-old midfield player Don Hutchison, prefers to remain cautious. "It's certainly very nice to be group leaders, but we mustn't get too carried away," he told uefa.com. "We still have to go to Lithuania this week and until we've come back with a decent result there is no point getting excited. They will be confident of turning us over having drawn with Germany, so we really do have to be careful."

Impressive result
Lithuania's impressive result in Nürnberg, described by their coach Algimantas Liubinskas as the best in their footballing history, has unquestionably thrown Group 5 wide open and Wednesday's game has now taken on great significance.

Two-horse race
"Iceland are now out of the equation so it would be nice to beat Lithuania and effectively ruin their chances of a play-off place too," Hutchison said. "That would leave ourselves and Germany to fight it out for top spot and that is a situation we'd have grabbed with both hands after our draw in the Faroes."

Personal triumph
Hutchison has only just returned to full fitness after suffering a torn cruciate knee ligament a year ago. He has still not reclaimed a regular place in the starting lineup at his club West Ham United FC, but Vogts was always keen to bring him straight back into the international fold.

Vogts of thanks
"While I was out injured I did get low," recalled Hutchison. "But Berti spoke to me a lot on the phone and kept me very much in the picture. I can't thank him enough for the way he involved me during that time. It boosted my confidence no end."

'We must win'
Having received an unexpected boost in Germany, Lithuania coach Liubinskas is setting his sights on qualification. "Our goal is to finish second in the group. We need to beat Scotland for that – a draw is not enough," he said.

Jankauskas expected to be fit
Main striker Edgaras Jankauskas sustained a minor leg injury in the Germany game, but is expected to be back into the squad to face Scotland, while Deividas Cesnauskis is suspended. Liubinskas has, therefore, sent for reinforcements, calling up striker Eimantas Poderis, midfield player Marius Bezykrovnas and defender Irmantas Zelmikas, and admitted the changes were a problem.

New faces
However, having made their international debuts against Germany, Vadimas Petrenko and Arunas Pukelevicius look set to keep their places. Such emerging talent means Liubinskas can look to the future with confidence. "When I left the national team [eight years ago], we were 50th in the FIFA rankings," he said. "Now we are 106th, but I trust that we will be back into top 100 very soon."

Duo missing
Scotland will be without injured Rangers FC duo Barry Ferguson and Steven Thompson, but Celtic FC goalkeeper Rob Douglas is expected to play despite a long-standing groin problem. Rangers full-back Maurice Ross, who was suspended for the Iceland match, is also available for selection on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Kestutis Gimbutas

Last updated: 02/04/03 11.06CET

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