Darren Fletcher believes Scotland's performance against Spain has set the benchmark for the rest of their EURO2012 campaign. However, the squad has to learn to reach their peak against lesser nations than the world champions. Scotland added Spain to the list of top-class European countries to struggle at Hampden in competitive games this century when they fought back from two goals down before Fernando Llorente struck a 79th-minute winner. Holland and France have both lost in Glasgow, Germany were held to a draw before that and then world champions Italy needed a last-minute winner after being put under sustained pressure. However, Scotland's campaign will now be defined by games their supporters expect them to win. The Czech Republic and Lithuania visit Hampden in September next year before Scotland travel to Liechtenstein - three games Fletcher described as "must-win" - ahead of their final qualifier in Spain next October.
The pressure will be intensified by the fact Scotland will almost certainly go into their Hampden double header in fourth place with the Czechs, already two points ahead, hosting Liechtenstein at home and playing Spain away beforehand. Lithuania have also emerged as strong contenders for the play-off place behind likely winners Spain after taking four points from their opening games against Scotland and the Czechs. Scotland have taken just one point from their away games against their closest rivals and laboured to a 2-1 victory over Liechtenstein thanks to Stephen McManus's injury-time goal in their opening home game. And Fletcher knows they cannot dip below the performance levels displayed when coming from two goals down against the current world champions.
The Manchester United midfielder said: "It's great credit to all the lads, they worked so hard - determination, listening to instructions of the manager and following them to the best of our abilities. It's important this is the level we must keep now. The fans behind us as well were fantastic. All throughout the game they were different class. We're disappointed in the way we lost the goal but in the same respect Allan (McGregor) has had five or six world-class saves and we rode our luck at times, but you have to expect that against a team like Spain. We weren't kidding ourselves, we knew we were up against the best team in the world. But we're disappointed because we got back in the game and felt we could have held on."
Fletcher is accustomed to coping with high expectations at club level but he appreciates that Scotland need to work at meeting such demands. The 26-year-old was the oldest member of the five-man midfield that started the second half after Charlie Adam also joined James Morrison, Steven Naismith and Graham Dorrans on the park. Fletcher marshalled the inexperienced line-up well and he also had some prompting for his team-mates off the pitch. He said: "Sometimes it is easier to lift yourselves against the bigger teams when not much is expected. It's easier to play the underdog role and we have experienced that in the past. The games we are expected to win we do find difficult and that's something we are going to have to get used to. There are three games in the group that we must win. We knew at the beginning of the group it was going to be a battle for second place between us and the Czechs, and obviously Lithuania have started well. We're prepared for the battle and there's still a long way to go."
Levein's midfielders protected their back four well, broke to good effect and linked up well with lone striker Kenny Miller to leave the vast majority of people inside Hampden pondering further why the manager did not use a similar formation against the Czechs. Levein refused to countenance such a theory though, abruptly ending a television interview when gently asked to compare his tactics with the 4-6-0 formation used in the 1-0 defeat in Prague. However, the commitment shown by his players against Spain went a long way to showing he had not lost the respect of his players despite concerns over his Prague approach elsewhere. Fletcher went on: "It's easy to say in retrospect what happens. We were disappointed with the result in the Czech Republic. We felt we had a game plan to get something out of the game, unfortunately we lost a goal from a set piece. Different games call for different tactics. The players go on the pitch and follow them to the best of their ability. I don't think the manager could have asked anything more from the lads over the two games. We followed instructions, we worked ever so hard and we gave everything in both games. Albeit we lost them both but definitely last night with the fans behind us, with the courage we showed, the determination we showed, and we played some good stuff at times, we are all behind the manager, we are all pulling in the same direction and we all want to achieve the same things for Scotland."