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Strachan takes comfort where he can

FIRST, the good news.

Strachan's job is made harder by the absence of some key players
Strachan's job is made harder by the absence of some key players

Philipp Lahm has retired from international football, as has Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker. Bastian Schweinsteiger is unavailable due to injury.

Moreover, Gordon Strachan's trawl for reasons to be cheerful ahead of the awesome campaign-opening trip to face World Champions Germany in Dortmund's SGL arena has alighted on some top-secret footage of their home friendly against Chile in Berlin in March, after which Die Mannschaft were whistled off the Olympic Stadium pitch.

As much joy as the South Americans had that night, however, it is worth remembering a couple of things. One, Chile operate a 3-4-3 system which the Scotland boss feels it would be unwise to replicate, and two, Germany won that match 1-0 with a goal from Mario Gotze.

The crumbs of comfort only illustrate the scale of the task facing the national side in their Euro 2016 opener. Fifa's top-ranked team are unbeaten since a 4-3 friendly defeat to the USA in June 2013.

"There's a few of their players retired - not enough as far as I am concerned," said Strachan drily. "I don't think I will be saying this guy can make a mistake or this guy can make a mistake. We'll be going on the theory that the Germans will be playing well and we have to do it all ourselves."

He added: "The best I've seen anybody play against them recently was Chile. They gave them a terrific, terrific game but they've got a one-off sort of system, and what we can't do is chop and change our system for everybody. It's a case of looking at what we're good at. I can't change the players, I can't change the physical size of them. So what we have to do is find a system that suits them and tweak it for certain teams."

The task facing the Scotland boss is made harder by key shortages in his own side. Scott Brown and Robert Snodgrass are physical, combative types and outstanding international performers.

James McArthur, whose £6.5m move to Leicester City fell through this week, ostensibly as they signed Argentina star Esteban Cambiasso instead, is one prospective replacement who received words of support from his national team manager, while Wolves' Kevin McDonald is another left-field candidate.

"I think James is under-rated by everybody," said Strachan. "He doesn't make the headlines. But if you look at the squad he is always there. We once looked at another player instead of him and there was no problem. There was no moaning. He came right back to us. He created the winning goal in Macedonia. He's brave on the ball and has an eye for goal. He can play anywhere in midfield and that's invaluable."

The side next Sunday night might have a makeshift quality, but fear isn't part of Strachan's vocabulary. He believes a bit of the old Blitz spirit can help take Scotland through and resents the implication that this is his side's "first real test". "When you're an international player or manager, every game is a test," said Strachan. "Every game is dissected like it's a cup final. We've all been tested over the past two years as a group.

Concentration - a shortcoming highlighted in the late defensive mis-steps against both England and Nigeria - will be a viral commodity, but keeping possession will help take pressure off his back players. "We are always looking to go forward but there must be a sense of trying to keep the ball," said ­Strachan. "If you chase the ball for 80 minutes, then in the last 10 mistakes can creep in because you are tired."

His defensive line is bolstered by Alan Hutton finally getting first-team football at Aston Villa, after a rapprochement with his manager Paul Lambert. "It's a mystery why Alan wasn't playing in the Premiership but now he's back and that's great," said Strachan.

"He has got on with his job, he's not kicked up a fuss, he's respected his manager's decisions and again that's why these guys are good to work with. I just hope these league games don't get in the way of his international form!"

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