Scotland's rare shot at a cup

Kenny Miller
Miller will captain Scotland against Wales

There are those who deride the end-of-season internationals, but the Tartan Army, who are battling through the chaos caused by the Icelandic ash-cloud to make it to the Aviva Stadium, come expecting to see a performance.

According to assistant manager Peter Houston, the Scotland players are also taking seriously the Carling Nations Cup games in Dublin against Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

By the end of May, most players are packing their flip-flops for a foreign holiday, though the more successful ones will be still involved in various bids for silverware.

Unusually, this is the case for Scotland, too, for there is a belief in the squad that, after the 3-0 win over Northern Ireland in early February, the team is capable of securing a brace of victories over their Celtic rivals.

It's not often you can say Scotland are two wins away from winning a trophy.

Craig Levein will be desperately keen to mark his 10th game in charge of the national side with a win over Gary Speed's Welsh side on Wednesday.

Scotland's chances have been helped by the many absences from the opponents' squad, among them Celtic's Joe Ledley, Spurs' Gareth Bale and Bolton's Sam Ricketts, plus the loss of players involved in the Swansea-Reading Championship play-off final.

Ross McCormack
McCormack returns to the Scotland fold after an 18-month absence

Furthermore, Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey is likely to be rested and Cardiff striker Craig Bellamy is in the squad.

However, the hamstring injury that robbed the Bluebirds of Bellamy's services in their play-off semi-final second leg defeat by Reading will surely mean he plays no part against Scotland.

Wales have been struggling since they thrashed Scotland 3-0 in Cardiff in November 2009. There has been a solitary victory in the eight games that have followed - and that was a friendly against Luxembourg.

They have scored only once in their last five games.

Speed's side prop up Group G in the 2012 Euro qualifiers, having lost their opening four matches against England, Montenegro, Switzerland and Bulgaria.

But with a player of the calibre of Nottingham Forest's Robert Earnshaw captaining Wales - who, of course, rattled in a hat-trick against Scotland in 2004 - Levein's men will have to be at their best to get a result.

This, after all, is a Scotland team with no reason to feel smug. It is still finding its feet under Levein, whose record stands at won four, drawn one and lost four.

Scotland sit third in Group I in their European Championship qualifying campaign, with four points from as many ties.

Spain and Czech Republic boast 15 and nine points respectively, though they have both played five games.

Levein has benefited from a collective goodwill, a national urge to see the team reach the finals of a major championship, just like they used to in a quintet of consecutive World Cup finals from 1974 onwards.

The jury is not yet out on the Scotland boss: the prosecution and defence are still gathering evidence.

As with every Scottish manager, Levein has experienced highs and lows, with the 3-2 Hampden defeat by world champions Spain last October making the Tartan Army feel good about themselves again, even in familiar, predictable defeat.

By contrast, when Stephen McManus smashed in a 97th minute header to give Scotland a 2-1 win over Liechtenstein at Hampden, many fans were left so drained by the experience that they did not know what they felt when the initial euphoria subsided.

Craig Levein
Levein takes charge of Scotland for the 10th time

That horror show represents Scotland's only win in a major tournament during Levein's time.

Two of his other successes have been in friendlies: a 1-0 win against Czech Republic in his first match as manager and a 3-0 defeat of the Faroe Islands at Pittodrie last November.

The fourth win of his reign was that triumph over Northern Ireland in February in Dublin.

The result boosted morale to such an extent that when Scotland played Brazil in their next game, in London in March, they took to the field uncowed. The 2-0 defeat was a respectable score.

So the Carling Cup has its uses for small countries like Scotland.

The effect of a win over Wales, possibly setting up a Cup decider against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday, would boost the Scots' confidence ahead of the remaining Euro 2012 qualifiers.

Czech Republic and Lithuania come calling to Hampden in September following Scotland's August friendly against Denmark.

But for all the enthusiasm of Levein and Houston for the Dublin tournament, the fans seem unconvinced.

A crowd of 18,742 watched Scotland play Northern Ireland in the opening game. On Wednesday, the attendance will be about 5,000.

Whether it's a question of cost after a season shelling out on the domestic scene, fan fatigue or apathy, it's evident that the Carling Nations Cup has failed to excite supporters.

In recent days Ireland has been visited by the Queen and President Obama.

Levein will hope that the players, in their displays in Dublin, act as ambassadors for a resurgent Scotland.