Toughest World Cup task, warns Scotland coach Craig Levein

Craig Levein and Steven Naismith
Levein (left) consoled his players after they missed out with a 3-1 loss to Spain

Craig Levein says he faces the toughest qualifying task yet for a Scotland boss but believes his side are shaping up nicely for the World Cup campaign.

"We moved down to pot four," the Scotland coach told BBC Scotland in reference to the seeding system.

"It would be the first time any manager will have taken Scotland from pot four into a qualifying position.

"So I understand it is going to be difficult, but I feel we are moving in the right direction."

Scotland have previously been in the fourth tier in a qualification draw, when they finished third behind Italy, France but ahead of Ukraine in the race for Euro 2008.

And, in July, they were paired with Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Macedonia and Wales in Group A for the World Cup campaign that will begin next year.

Levein confirmed that Cyprus was the likely destination for his squad in November, when he plans a training camp and a match against national side as they prepare for that task.

The match will coincide with the Euro 2012 play-offs, a stage the Scots missed out on after finishing third in Group I behind Spain and the Czech Republic.

But Levein was coy about describing that as a failure while admitting early mistakes during his tenure.

"We were the third seeds in the group and we finished third, but for me that's probably not good enough," he said.

"We got off to a slow start. A lot of it had to do with me not understanding what the best players were, what the best team was.

"But, as the group's progressed, I feel we are in a much better place now."

However, Levein claimed that his side would have qualified had they not conceded a controversial penalty - and been denied a claim of their own - in a 2-2 draw at home to the Czechs.

"We only missed out from getting into the play-offs with a couple of referee decisions in the last minute against the Czech Republic," he said.

"For me, that gives me encouragement and will put us, starting off this campaign, in a much better place than we started the last one.

"So that gives a better chance of qualifying."

Meanwhile, Levein believes that work behind the scenes by scout Mick Oliver and recently appointed performance director Mark Wotte will benefit both himself and those who succeed him.

He pointed out that English-born Craig Mackail-Smith, Jamie Mackie and Phil Bardsley had been introduced to the squad thanks to Oliver through their Scottish ancestry, while Wotte was working to improve home-grown talent coming through Scottish clubs.

"The whole idea is that, in 10 years, the Scotland manager will be talking to guys like yourself having a fantastic array of talent to pick from," added Levein.

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