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Football: YOU'RE STILL MY No.1 KENNY; Striker's vote of confidence.

Byline: By Gary Ralston

SCOTLAND boss Alex McLeish has told Kenny Miller he is still a vital part of his plans.

Miller is in danger of becoming a bit part player at Celtic after failing to command a regular place in Gordon Strachan's side.

But McLeish is backing his No.1 striker to recover his confidence in time to shoot the Scots to next summer's Euro 2008 finals.

Miller scored only eight times for the Hoops last season after moving from Wolves on a Bosman transfer.

The 26-year-old started the new season on the bench as Celtic kicked off the defence of their SPL title with a goalless draw against Kilmarnock on Sunday.

Scotland are approaching make or break time in their qualifying campaign for the finals in Austria and Switzerland.

McLeish has arranged a friendly against South Africa at Pittodrie on August 22 as preparation for next month's ties against Lithuania and France.

Scotland also face a double header against Ukraine and Georgia in October, before rounding off their section at home to Italy on November 17.

McLeish has told Miller not to fret because he is still at the forefront of his thoughts.

He said: "I'd like to think Kenny's confidence has not taken a dip. I'd like to tell him not to worry because he'll certainly be in my thoughts for the games coming up.

"If it looks like someone's confidence has gone because he isn't playing regularly - and not just Kenny - we'll see it in the way he trains, plays in practice matches and in his body language.

"But Kenny is a tough little cookie and he'll come through this mini crisis."

McLeish is torn because he needs his starters to be at their sharpest, particularly for the clash against the French in Paris on September 12.

He is also keen to show loyalty to the likes of Miller, who has netted nine times for Scotland in 31 appearances stretching back over four years.

McLeish added: "We all want Kenny to be playing regularly because his appearances for Scotland have been terrific.

"It's a long season and Kenny will be doing everything in his power to catch Gordon's eye. It will be great if he can get games."

Meanwhile, McLeish hopes Celtic avoid the pitfalls Rangers suffered three years ago as they bid to make the Champions League group stages against Spartak Moscow.

Rangers were paired with CSKA Moscow in the qualifiers and made favourites to progress.

Instead, they were bundled out 3-2 on aggregate and although CSKA did not reach the last 16, they dropped into the UEFA Cup and went on to win the competition, defeating Sporting Lisbon 3-1 in the final.

McLeish said: "CSKA were a superb side yet people expected us to romp it.

"They had spent pounds 20 million on new players, including Brazilian striker Wagner Love, and the spending power of Russian clubs is why it's such a tough one for Celtic.

"It's just a shame we still have to qualify - you'd have thought Celtic and Rangers had done enough in the last couple of seasons to avoid the qualifiers."

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BACKING: Kenny Miller has been told he is still part of Scotland boss Alex McLeish's plans
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 8, 2007
Words:538
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