Russia vs ScotlandEuro 2020, KO: 19:45 Oct 10, 2019, Luzhniki Stadium
Scotland's hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020 via the traditional qualification process suffered a fatal blow during the last round of international fixtures following back-to-back home defeats against Russia and Belgium respectively.
It was a harmful setback at Hampden for Steve Clarke and Co and was Scotland's first competitive defeats on home turf in four years – and as a consequence has left Scottish hopes of automatic qualification for Euro 2020 hanging by a thread.
Scotland will help host next Summers showpiece and it looks increasingly likely that the Tartan Army's hopes of ending their international exile from major tournaments now hinges on the pressure cooker of the Nations League play-offs.
Yet, Scotland can still mathematically make next year's finals by escaping Group I, however, it will take a monumental effort to do so and what looks like mission impossible starts in Moscow on Thursday night.
The Scots will square off with Russia for the second time in five weeks and it was the Russians who grabbed all three points in Glasgow last month to cement their place in the top-two of the section.
John McGinn pounced early on to put the Scots in dreamland, however, thereafter Scotland's patched up defence was duly picked apart by a Russian side who's superiority seen them stage a comeback to pick up a deserved victory.
Three days later Stanislav Cherchsov's side squeezed out a 1-0 win against Kazakhstan in Kaliningrad courtesy of an 89th minute Mario Fernandes goal.
Consequently, Russia can confirm their place at Euro 2020 this week should they put Scotland to the sword again before seeing off Cyprus on Sunday.
The bookies make the Russians odds-on favourites at 8/15 (Bet 365) to make it six wins on the spin, while the Scots are huge odds-against at 13/2 (Bet 365) and the draw is an unfancied 16/5 (SportingBet)
However, Scotland go into most battles as the underdog and this tussle will no be no different – perhaps even more so given the volume of players Clarke has been unable to call upon.
Following another explosive start to the season Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland has landed a call-up, however, it's unlikely Shankland will start in Moscow.
With no other recognised striker listed in the squad Johnny Russel or Oliver Burke could lead the line or Ryan Christie could potentially be deployed in a false number nine role.
However, the Russians have no shortage of attacking options and after scoring at Hampden last month battering-ram Artem Dzyuba could well prove to be the scourge of Scotland yet again.
I successfully tipped Dzyuba to score last midweek in the Champions League when he helped his club side Zenit beat Benfica and I now fancy the towering target-man to inflict further woe on the Tartan Army.
Another makeshift Scotland defence could struggle to deal with Dzyuba and although odds of 10/3 (PaddyPower) are tempting in the first goalscorer market I would be more inclined to opt for the Russia striker to score anytime at 6/5 (PaddyPower)
With one of Mikey Devlin, Stuart Findlay or Declan Gallagher set to partner Charlie Mulgrew at the heart of the Scottish defence this will be a new and unfamiliar back four for Scotland on Thursday night – and they will receive a stern examination in this encounter from a technically gifted Russian outfit.
Along with the aforementioned Dzyuba, the hosts also have the likes of Alexandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev to turn towards and that could spell trouble for a makeshift Scottish rearguard.
Should Gallagher makes his international bow then he could be worth backing at 3/1 (Bet 365) to be booked as he has been a regular recipient of cards in recent seasons, however, I would also consider the 9/2 (Bet 365) on offer for right-back Stephen O'Donnell to be cautioned – especially if he is up against the dangerous and direct Cheryshev.
With group qualification now a slim possibility Clarke may use this fixture as an opportunity to experiment ahead of the Nations League play-offs next Spring and that coupled with Russia's red -hot form points towards a home win here.
What's more, Scotland's only successes to date during this campaign have come against minnows San Marino and Cyprus – two performances that were far from convincing. – and I suspect more misery could await in Moscow,
The odds on a home win look slightly short at 8/15 (Bet 365) however, combining a Russia victory with Dzyuba scoring anytime is priced at 8/5 (Bet 365) – a combination that catches the eye and one that would have generated profit in three out of five Russia Group I victories thus far.
This Euro 2020 match between Russia and Scotland will be played on Oct 10, 2019 and kick off at 19:45