Football: Brown set to take friendlies seriously

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DURING nearly five years of Craig Brown's management, Scotland's record in non-competitive fixtures has been as dismal as their performance in reaching the finals of major tournaments is impressive.

In tonight's penultimate World Cup warm-up game against Colombia in the Giants Stadium, they will attempt to purge the tendency towards taking friendly matches too literally. Away from their successes in qualifying campaigns, Scotland have won only four and lost nine of their 15 games under Brown. The victories, moreover, were all single-goal affairs, against Austria, Ecuador, Malta and Australia; scarcely the most encouraging pedigree with which to confront one of South America's leading sides.

However, by naming a team which is likely to resemble closely his line- up for the opening match of France '98 against Brazil, Brown effectively acknowledged yesterday that the time for experimentation is all but over. Tonight's result may not have any long-term significance, but it would clearly be psychologically disadvantageous to go into the World Cup with defeats by Colombia and the United States behind them.

Brown was already committed to using his third-choice goalkeeper, Neil Sullivan. Otherwise, he had intimated that the team would be a full-strength one, only to lose his only proven scorer at international level, Kevin Gallacher, to a stomach upset.

Darren Jackson, who should at least be fresh after a season largely spent warming the bench at Celtic, steps in to form an Old Firm striking partnership with Gordon Durie. But it is in midfield that Scotland's dependence on the new champions is most conspicuous.

Three of the quintet normally wear the Celtic shamrock. The most significant selection is that of Craig Burley in the central role where his performances earned him the accolade of being the Scottish Football Writers' Player of the Year. Brown normally uses the former Chelsea player as a wing-back, yet his form for Celtic has evidently persuaded the manager to accommodate him in a unit that must compensate for the loss of Gary McAllister.

"We've used Craig there before, during the World Cup match against Sweden at Ibrox, and also in the Under 21s," Brown said. "We're well aware of his capabilities."

Brown also reported that Jackie McNamara had finally shaken off a nagging ankle problem. John Collins, expected to share McAllister's creative mantle with Burley, is short of match practice after a toe injury, but is too important to the Brown's plans not to start tonight's game.

Colombia are one of England's group opponents next month and will be monitored on Glenn Hoddle's behalf by Kenny Sansom, the former Arsenal and Crystal Palace full-back. They provided Scotland's last test before Euro '96, winning 1-0 in a Miami monsoon, and have brought a squad brimming with familiar names.

Faustino Asprilla, the match-winner that night, is expected to play, despite his reported concern over alleged death threats to Colombian players and officials. The 36-year-old Carlos Valderrama, he of the hair that resembles an exploding root vegetable, is also likely to pull the midfield strings.

Brown said: "Colombia's record in qualifying was pretty useful, with eight wins and four draws out of 16 matches. They score goals freely, but they're defensively vulnerable and the goalkeeper Oscar Cordoba, is brilliant but erratic.

"I've studied the video of their game against Yugoslavia. Cordoba was sent off after half an hour but they still drew 0-0. Asprilla's obviously a danger."

SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Sullivan (Wimbledon); Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyd (Celtic); McNamara (Celtic), Burley (Celtic), Lambert (Celtic), Collins (Monaco), Dailly (Derby); Jackson (Celtic), Durie (Rangers).

COLOMBIA (Probable, 4-4-2): O Cordoba (Boca Juniors); Bermuduz (Boca), Cabrera (Independiente Medellin), Mendoza (Veracruz), Galleano (Athletico Junior); Serna (Athletico Nacional), Valderrama (Miami Fusion), Rincon (Corinthians), Perez (Unicosta); De Avila (New York/New Jersey MetroStars) Asprilla (Parma).