Football: Aggression is the key for hungry Scots

Scotland v Norway: Brown contemplates changes in both personnel and formation in pursuit of essential victory
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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND WILL today attempt to turn the clock back to Italia 90, the setting for their most recent victory in the finals, as they go head-to- head with Norway in the knowledge that defeat would condemn them to the all-too familiar fate of an early plane back to Glasgow.

In psychological terms, Craig Brown regards the meeting with Norway in the Stade Lescure in Bordeaux as similar to Scotland's collision with Sweden in Genoa eight years ago, when he was assistant to the national coach, Andy Roxburgh. Then, as now, they had lost their opening fixture, albeit to Costa Rica rather than Brazil, and needed three points to maintain any hope of advancing to the second phase.

A display of controlled aggression, plus the fillip of an early goal by Stuart McCall, set up a 2-1 win over a Swedish side who arrived at the tournament boasting a record comparable with the impressive run compiled by Egil Olsen's Norway.

The Norwegians, who fell below their own expectations in drawing 2-2 against Morocco, will not be mathematically eliminated if they suffer the loss which befell their fellow Scandinavians. They could still reach four points by overcoming Brazil, whom they humbled 4-2 in Oslo last year. But to bounce back from defeat by Scotland in such a manner would arguably represent the greatest upset in the competition's history.

For Scotland, the picture is altogether clearer. Success would send them into their final group match, against Morocco at St Etienne, on a wave of tartan euphoria.

A draw will keep hope alive. A second defeat would reduce next Tuesday's game into a trial run for the start of the European Championship qualifying campaign next autumn.

The scene is set, therefore, for what promises to be a passionate and pulsating struggle between two teams steeped in the "British" way. The likelihood of their cancelling each other out, as Norway and the Republic of Ireland did in a barren stalemate at USA 94, seems mercifully remote.

Despite the fact that so many of the combatants play in the English Premiership, Brown and Olsen favour starkly contrasting styles. Scotland's is a passing game, founded on the accuracy and economy of John Collins and Paul Lambert. Norway often by-pass midfield and take a perverse pride in what Olsen euphemistically calls "the penetrative way of playing".

Both managers are likely to make adjustments to allow for their opponents' approach; neither is likely to stray unduly from their chosen path. Norway may switch from their customary 4-4-2 formation to the similar 4-5-1, while the Scots will probably revert to 3-5-2 after experimenting with Darren Jackson in a roving role against Brazil. It is the system the players are comfortable with and one to which they are well-suited.

Scotland may restore the tenacious Billy McKinlay to midfield in place of Jackson. Colin Calderwood will also be expected to push forward if the Norwegians go for one up front, leaving Colin Hendry as a marker and Tom Boyd to cover. The aim would be to allow Lambert to use his increasingly influential playmaking skills in a more dangerous area.

Olsen has intimated that Hendry's duel with Tore Andre Flo could be decisive. Brown, aware that the Chelsea striker's touch belies his image as a target man, disagrees. He views Jostein Flo (the brother) or Havard Flo (the cousin) as more likely to challenge for the ball in the air and warns of Tore Andre's capabilities as a "decoy".

The height at Norway's disposal, allied to their habit of hoisting diagonal balls, means that Craig Burley and Christian Dailly are set to retain the wing-back places. Although the Derby player's positional sense was at fault for Brazil's winning goal, his heading prowess and robust physique should ensure a reprieve.

Norway's most mobile forward, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is expected to recover from ankle damage sustained against Morocco. His Manchester United colleague Henning Berg - publicly admonished but forgiven by Olsen for his Sheringham- esque disco diversion with Erik Mykland - may switch to central defence, following Dan Eggen's faltering start. Gunnar Halle, of Leeds, would replace him at right-back.

In their first game, Norway left gaping holes between either centre-back and his full back. Any repeat would be tantamount to inviting Gordon Durie and Kevin Gallacher to surge through the channels to confront Tottenham's Frode Grodas in goal.

Scotland have drawn three and lost three of their six matches since qualifying last October. Norway, as well as embarrassing Brazil, have rattled in four goals in Finland, five at home to Switzerland and Mexico, six against Saudi Arabia and drawn 3-3 away to France in an unbeaten sequence over the same period.

So the form book favours the Norwegians, who also stand higher in Fifa's world rankings. Brown is nevertheless confident that his players have timed their progress towards peak condition perfectly, and convinced that in their preferred role as underdogs they can banish the stigma of never moving beyond the first stage.

Destiny is summoning Scotland once more. The possibility that they might be confusing it with the call for the flight home has not entered their thoughts.

SCOTLAND (Probable, 3-5-2): Leighton (Aberdeen); Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyd (Celtic); Burley, Lambert (both Celtic), B McKinlay (Blackburn), Collins (Monaco), Dailly (Derby); Gallacher (Blackburn); Durie (Rangers).