International newcomer Graeme Shinnie insists there is a strong belief that Scotland can upset the odds and claim a Euro 2016 place ahead of Thursday’s pivotal qualifier against Poland at Hampden Park.
Scotland are six points adrift of their second-placed opponents and four shy of the Republic of Ireland in Group D’s play-off place, meaning defeat in Glasgow would end their hopes of reaching next year’s finals in France.
Gordon Strachan’s side claimed a 2-2 draw in Warsaw last October but now face the daunting prospect of Poland’s star striker Robert Lewandowski entering the return clash in scintillating form.
Lewandowski has scored a remarkable 12 goals in his past four games for Bayern Munich and the 27-year-old certainly appears to be in the mood to add to his 10 strikes in eight qualifiers to date.
Shinnie’s impressive early season form for Aberdeen has garnered scant attention by comparison but it was enough to earn the defender a maiden international call-up and he is impressed by the spirit among his new colleagues.
“It’s a big task but we’ve still got hope of qualifying,” he said. “I’ve watched the games previously and they’ve been good.
“The build up around the whole country has been great and there’s real optimism here. Thursday will be a big game and I’m sure all the players will be looking forward to it.
“There is massive belief. There are great players in this squad and a great manager and coaching staff behind that as well.
“The result away in Poland last time, we’ll take massive confidence from that.”
Norwich City midfielder Graham Dorrans has replaced Kevin McDonald in the Scotland squad after the Wolves player suffered a lower back injury, while Celtic’s Charlie Mulgrew (thigh) is a major doubt.
Strachan also has concerns over Watford winger Ikechi Anya (muscular problem) and captain Darren Fletcher (knock).
Fletcher’s West Brom team-mate James Morrison is suspended for the Poland game but could face Gibraltar in the final qualifier, providing he is able overcome an ankle complaint.
Poland have an extra incentive to secure qualification on Thursday, with the Daily Record reporting that their players stand to pocket a windfall of up to £100,000 each from the Polish FA and its sponsors if they reach France.
A far less sizable slice of the pie would go to Artur Sobiech – the Hannover forward having earned his first international call-up since 2013.
“This is not a good time to make big changes, so in most cases I stuck to players I know well,” said coach Adam Nawalka, explaining his selections to face Scotland before hosting Ireland.
“But we called up Artur Sobiech, who has not been in the national team for a long time, so this is proof that our selection process is not over.”