Scots are on the up, says Naismith

Steven Naismith
Naismith has made a strong start to his Everton career and is also firing on all cylinders for his country. Photo: PA

Steven Naismith believes Scotland are in their best shape since Craig Levein took over as manager as they aim to kick off their World Cup qualifying campaign with maximum points at Hampden Park.

The Scots play host to Serbia on Saturday, before facing Macedonia three days later at the same venue.

Naismith is confident the national team is as ready to deliver the goods now as they have been since Levein replaced George Burley at the helm in December 2009.

He said: "Nobody can deny that there has been a lot of progress made from where the national squad was before he took over. "We've all now had experience in qualifiers.

"It's not as though we are a new squad coming together, we've been together for a while now, which goes a long way.

"Now we need to turn it into performances at the qualifying stage, not doing it in friendlies and things like that.

"We now need to show that we are capable and that what the manager has been working towards has paid off."

Scotland face a tough group, which also includes Belgium, Wales and Croatia.

But the Everton midfielder added: "We are confident.

"The group we've got is going to be tough but we think we can get results.

"There is enough experience along with youth in the squad to compete against anybody.

"You've got to be confident - if you're not confident, you shouldn't be in the squad and that's the bottom line."

The Tartan Army will no doubt be looking for a maximum six points from the opening two matches.

Naismith is well aware of the demands for success but believes the national team are in decent form following last month's friendly win over Australia.

He said: "In the home games there is always pressure.

"Since I've been in the squad we have shown up well in the home games, we've competed and we've probably been the better team against most.

"It's just about turning them into wins.

"The manager will have sat down and gone through every fixture, knowing where he wants every win ideally.

"I'm sure he will want the two home games at the start.

"You want to get off to a good start.

"Looking at the fixtures, I don't think you can get better than the two home games, to have the fans behind you and hopefully get a good start.

"We showed last month that we've got a good squad who are competing with each other to get in that starting 11.

"We will go into the game confident and hopefully we can get the three points on Saturday."

Naismith refused to be drawn into the debate over Steven Fletcher's continued absence from the national team.

Levein closed the door on the striker - who completed a £12million move to Sunderland last month - after he sent a text message saying he did not want to be selected for a friendly against Northern Ireland in 2011.

Naismith said: "I think the manager has made his point on it and it's going to be his decision.

"He's made it clear to everybody what he wants and what he expects.

"The other guys in the squad are the ones we do need to talk about.

"Jordan Rhodes came in last month, scored on his debut and put in a man of the match performance.

"We've got Kenny Miller, who has been a massive player for the last 10 years.

"These are the guys you've got to look forward to now to do it for the country, backed up by the strong midfield we have.

"If it comes off for the manager, then you can't complain. Nobody was saying too much last month when we beat Australia.

"Those are the decisions a manager needs to make and I'm sure the manager is comfortable with the one he's made."