Brown heeds history lesson

Phil Gordon talks to the coach who is ready to learn from past mistakes
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The Independent Online
There was more than a touch of irony when Craig Brown chose Old Trafford as the place to finalise his thoughts on Scotland's World Cup ambitions. Four years ago, Manchester United's ground provided the first crack in the foundations for Brown's predecessor, Andy Roxburgh, as ultimately the dream of making the finals crumbled into disappointment.

Brown, the Scotland coach, was at Old Trafford last week to watch Duncan Ferguson confirm his fitness with two goals in Everton's 2-2 draw, thereby booking his place in the squad for the opening qualifying group match with Austria on Saturday. Brown believes the campaign to reach USA 94 was shaped not just by the opening match defeat by Switzerland - who did qualify - but by a domestic encounter three days before it. "We had two vital players, Brian McClair and Gary McAllister, involved in a highly- charged Manchester United-Leeds match on the Sunday before we faced the Swiss.

"We wanted them with us but we gave in and let them play. They then struggled their way to Switzerland and it would be fair to say that neither was able to give their best. That state of affairs wouldn't happen again. This time, because we're playing the Austrians on a Saturday, we have no Premiership fixtures to worry about and we have also invoked the Fifa five-day ruling to ensure we have John Collins with us. His club Monaco wanted him for a French league game with Cannes on the Wednesday, but we have insisted that he is with us."

Brown, who was Roxburgh's assistant on that night in Berne in September 1992, does not want to see history repeat itself in Vienna. That Scotland team had emerged from the European Championship finals in Sweden, but failed to get out of the blocks when the World Cup started, losing 3-1 to the Swiss. "I still blame myself," Brown said. "We were drawing 1-1 and should have settled for that but I said to Andy Roxburgh that we could win the game so we pushed on, and then Richard Gough was sent off and the game turned on its head."

Brown insists there will be no Euro 96 hangover: "The blunt truth about Euro 96 is that we were not good enough, and we want to improve on that. We are desperate to be in France in 1998 because it will be a festival and it would be a great place for our fans to enjoy themselves, but we also want to get there because we missed out on America last time round."

The Austrians, along with Sweden, represent the chief threats to Scotland qualifying for the sixth time out of the past seven World Cups finals. Austria are undergoing a renaissance at national and club level, with two of their teams, Casino Salzburg and Rapid Vienna, reaching European club finals in recent years. However, part of the baggage the Scots will bring there is the memory of a 2-1 friendly victory over the Austrians in the Ernst Happel Stadium just two seasons ago.

"We chose the fixture schedule this way because I prefer to get my away games against our main rivals out of the way first. If we can get a result away from home, there is a great psychological advantage for us. The Austrians have improved vastly in recent years. I have had them watched recently, when they beat both Switzerland and the Czech Republic in the run-up to Euro 96. That gives an indication of their potential."