Brown praises his bravehearts in a match to savour

Click to follow
The Independent Online
If the opening game was all about betrayed expectations, this match was like walking into a greasy spoon "caff" and finding Marco Pierre White behind the stove. An unexpected delight.

As at Wembley, pre-match anticipation was of a one-sided game; as at Wembley it was the supposedly lesser side's support which celebrated the draw. But the comparisons ended there. This was a game rich in quality, both in terms of the sophisticated skills we have come to expect from the Dutch and in the often thoughtful passing of Scotland. Either side, on this showing, would have beaten England or Switzerland. Both may yet do so.

It remains, however, a good result for England. Group A is wide open and a repeat of Italia 90, when England and Ireland contested a draw-laden group of death (or dearth), beckons.

There is another echo in the Netherlands' involvement. Then, as now, they were among the pre-tournament favourites. They failed to live up to that billing, scraping through the group stage before losing to Germany. The pressure is now as much on them as England. There were moments in their performance of high class, but there were also cracks in the orange gloss.

Danny Blind will be back for Thursday's match against the Swiss but his absence was not a problem - Johan de Kock covered admirably. It was the balance of the team which was the main area of concern. Without Marc Overmars the emphasis on wing play is less effective, Gaston Taument was tricky but he lacks the pace and eye for goal of his injured predecessor.

Even so, his departure was a surprise. It meant Dennis Bergkamp, whose movement had been troubling the Scottish defence, had to be moved to the wing, where his threat was less. Ideally Bergkamp would play deep, off Patrick Kluivert, but then Clarence Seedorf would have to move back into Edgar Davids' position.

Guus Hiddink, the Dutch coach, said he was "pleased with the performance" if not the result. "After 20 minutes I thought we would win, we had so much pressure, but the game drifted away from us," he said. "Every game is a cup final for us now," he added, showing that cliched speech is not restricted to British footballers.

Hiddink was unhappy at the Swedish referee's failure to spot John Collins' alleged handball."It was a big mistake," he said. "The Scots admitted it was a handball. The referee was in a bad position." Craig Brown, his counterpart, was naturally more buoyant. "It was a battling performance in which Stuart McCall was the key. He sat in front of the back four and broke up their attacks. McAllister and Collins are the equal of any midfielders in Europe and Andy Goram is world class.

"Our supporters will dearly hope we will now win at Wembley. I am not saying we will, but England will find it very difficult to beat us. The opening games have given us more optimism but England showed in the first half against Switzerland that they are a fine side."