By Alex O'Henley
Scotland may be outsiders to beat the Netherlands in their UEFA EURO 2004™ play-off, but Darren Fletcher is confident that his nation can pull off a surprise in the first leg at Hampden Park on Saturday.
Fletcher burst on to the international scene in Scotland's final Group 5 qualifier against Lithuania when he came off the bench to score the only goal and secure a play-off place ahead of Iceland. The 19-year-old has been a regular in Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United FC squad this season and is now tipped for his first Scotland start, but he is taking nothing for granted.
'Up to the manager'
"I would love to make my first start against the Dutch but that is up to the manager," Fletcher told uefa.com. "It is entirely up to Berti Vogts. He will pick the team he thinks is capable of winning the game and I have to try and impress him in training just like everyone else."
While acknowledging that the Netherlands are a talented side, the precocious teenager is predicting a tough game for the Dutch in Glasgow. Fletcher, who will be winning his third cap having made his debut in August, added: "People seem to think it is going to be a backs-to-the-wall kind of situation, but I do not think it is going to be like that at all.
'We can win'
"We are capable enough of stringing a few passes together and creating a few chances of our own. If everyone performs,
I am confident we can win this game. We are going to need a little bit of luck and will have to play out of our skins, but stranger things have happened."
Van Nistelrooij tribute
Like many others, Fletcher has been bemused by the debate in the Dutch camp as to whether his United colleague Ruud van Nistelrooij will play against Scotland. Van Nistelrooij was unhappy at being substituted in the 3-1 defeat against the Czech Republic and despite being recalled to the squad, may not start.
"No disrespect to Ruud but I would be delighted if he did not play," Fletcher said. "From working with him every day I know just how good he is. My game has been improved due to the excellence of his all-round play. His hold-up play is second to none and he is always available and willing to take the ball, even when he is surrounded by opponents. That is why he is world class."
The stakes are high for both countries after they each failed to reach last year's FIFA World Cup finals, but Fletcher insists his grounding at Old Trafford will ensure he is not fazed by the opposition. "
I will not be overawed," Fletcher said. "I joined Manchester United because I wanted to play in the [UEFA] Champions League and in big games like this. I learn a lot from working alongside people like Ruud and the other guys. David Beckham was also a big influence when he was at the club. His work-rate, his touch and passing ability are all things young players aspire to equalling.
"I have played against Edgar Davids during the summer on our American tour and I am relishing the prospect of facing him again on Saturday. You match yourself up against players like that. You gauge how good you are by how well you perform against them. It is my aim to play in a [UEFA} European Championship with Scotland and who is to say it is not going to be in Portugal next summer."
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