Football: Adventure restores morale

Phil Gordon applauds the Scots who cast caution to the warm wind
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The Independent Online
IF ANYONE had suggested a week ago that Glasgow would be in the middle of a heatwave and Scotland would have beaten the European champions, their sanity would have been questioned. Surely, it is too early in the year for sunstroke? Yet, although temperatures were nudging 70 degrees on Thursday afternoon, the real reason for the healthy glow was down to a group of footballers.

There were few who did not bask in the reflected glow of the 1-0 friendly victory over Germany in Bremen by Craig Brown's team. Maybe the result was as freak as the weather, but the success has brought a welcome shaft of light to the Scots.

It has restored morale ahead of the crucial European Championship Group Nine double-header next month, away to the Faroe Islands and then the Czech Republic, but it has also hinted at a brighter horizon. With so many players pulling out because of injury, Brown was forced to field an essentially third-choice team. Not only did the coach learn about his largely untried fringe players, but he also discovered a few things he did not know about himself.

Scotland cast off the caution that so often shackles their play and put on an impressive second-half display of attacking football that deserved more than just Don Hutchison's goal to show for it. Scotland's defensive virtues have underpinned their play in recent years but Brown's impressive organisation had slowly suffocated any spirit of adventure. That was until last Wednesday night when the stunned 28,000 crowd saw the fluent Scots orchestrate the kind of passing moves which left Lothar Matthaus and his defenders often chasing shadows.

Was it the doing of the coach, or players such as Hutchison and Allan Johnston who were keen to stake their claims? "I think the players simply showed more belief in themselves," said Murdo MacLeod, the former Scotland player. The man who helped Wim Jansen guide Celtic to the title last season and was among Brown's coaching staff at France 98 was particularly grateful for the boost to prestige. Returning to the country where he spent three years playing for Borussia Dortmund would not have been pleasant had the Scots taken a hammering.

"It's fair to say that the Germans don't rate Scottish football," MacLeod said. "Even their coach, Erich Ribbeck, made a bit of a mistake by saying he only knew Paul Lambert and the 'big blond one' [Colin Hendry]."

Hendry, who snuffed out Milan's Oliver Bierhoff, caught MacLeod's eye, along with his defensive partner Tom Boyd, but it was Hutchison and Johnston who stole the show. "We knock ourselves too readily," said MacLeod, "and get knocked by other countries, but Scotland has better players than we think."

Johnston, who was only playing because of Neil McCann's injury, underlined the spirit of adventure with one delicious moment which bewildered Bayern Munich's Thomas Strunz. "That was a wonderful piece of skill," MacLeod declared, "and it showed their confidence. Hutchison was superb. He played even better when he stepped back into midfield after Eoin Jess came on up front."

Pressure is something that is mounting on Germany now after this latest ignominy, but MacLeod insists Scotland should ignore that and feed on the positive points to re-ignite their interest in Euro 2000. "The Germans are rebuilding, but take it from me, it's not in their mentality ever to treat any game lightly."