reports from Moscow
Scotland tonight pin their hopes of upsetting Russia, the favourites to take one of the two Group Eight places in the European Championship, on their fifth different attacking partnership in as many games and a pitch with about as much life in it as the "race'' for the Scottish Premier League title.
Darren Jackson, the volatile Hibernian striker whose c.v. includes an unsuccessful spell with Newcastle, wins his first cap playing off Bolton's John McGinlay. Colin Calderwood, the Tottenham defender who is his temperamental opposite, also makes his international debut, having never played a senior match in his home country.
Given that the game is one Scotland hardly dare lose, Craig Brown would not normally have chosen to blood the pair in the Central Luzhniki Stadium. But the unavailability of forwards such as McCoist, Gallacher, Ferguson, Spencer and Booth has provided an opening for Jackson, while injury to Craig Levein means a call to arms for Calderwood at 30.
The Scottish squad trained in a blizzard at the match venue yesterday, after which they requested that their coach drive them past Red Square. If the subsequent 90 minutes spent in a jam reminiscent of the M8 in rush hour did little for morale, both the Scotland manager and his captain, Gary McAllister, returned confident that conditions would help preclude one-way traffic towards their goal.
Brown considered that the playing surface needed "a coat of green paint," adding: "The grass is almost yellow after being covered with snow all winter, and not as smooth as we're used to. That will probably be more of a disadvantage to Russia, who are a very attractive footballing side. "We've got to get up at 'em - knock them out of their smooth stride."
McAllister, who is likely to start in his new, more advanced club role, described the pitch as "dead''. He added, tempting fate, that Russia's showing in November's 1-1 draw in Glasgow had scarcely been as awesome as some in the media had made out.
Scotland are encouraged by reports that Sergei Kiriakov, whose return of 14 goals from 22 caps Brown termed "exceptional'', was injured playing for Karlsruhe, the Bundesliga team, last weekend. Dmitri Radchenko, a £2.2m target for Celtic, would replace him; his only goal in 24 internationals was the equaliser at Hampden Park.
Since the World Cup, Oleg Romantsev has combined managership of Moscow Spartak and the national team. Results so far, the latest of which was last month's 2-1 setback in Slovakia, indicate that Russia may not yet have put behind them the internal divisions which frequently undermined the Soviet Union.
However, a line-up in which everyone bar Andrei Kanchelskis has Spartak connections suggests progress towards greater cohesion.
While a Russian victory would put them level on points with Scotland, with two games in hand, McAllister played down the idea that it was make- or-break time for Scotland. "We need to get something here, but the big one for us is to beat Greece by more than they beat us [1-0]," he said.
Defeat would leave Scotland almost certainly requiring maximum points from their five remaining fixtures to qualify. With their resources again stretched to breaking point, even the narrowest of failures would be seen by Brown as the springboard for just such a grandstand finish.
RUSSIA (probable; 1-2-5-2): Cherchessov (Dynamo Dresden); Nikiforov (Moscow Spartak); Khlestov (Spartak), Afanasiev (Spartak); Kanchelskis (Manchester United), Tetradze (Vladikavkaz), Onopko (Spartak), Karpin (Real Sociedad), Shalimov (Duisburg); Radchenko (Racing Santander), Besthcastnykh (Werder Bremen).
SCOTLAND (probable: 4-1-3-2): Leighton (Hibernian); McKimmie (Aberdeen), Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyd (Celtic); McLaren (Rangers); McStay (Celtic), McAllister (Leeds), Collins (Celtic); Jackson (Hibernian), McGinlay (Bolton).
Referee: G Constantin (Romania).
n Doug Freedman, the Barnet striker, scored the winner as Scotland came back strongly against Russia in the Under-21 match in Moscow yesterday afternoon. Scotland trailed after 22 minutes but the Rangers midfielder Charlie Miller equalised before Freedman struck after 79 minutes.Reuse content