Football: Auld enemies drawn in the same group

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The Independent Online
The memories came flooding back. Stewart Kennedy wrapped around the goalpost and conceding five, Jim Baxter taunting the World Cup holders, and the Wembley crossbar being pulled to the turf by inebriated tartan-clad supporters.

It was, perhaps, inevitable from the moment the governing body of European football, Uefa, decided not to keep Scotland and England apart that they would be paired together in the European Championship finals draw.

The linking was the penultimate act of a slickly produced show in Birmingham yesterday. When England were added to Scotland, the Netherlands and Switzerland in the third grouping, there were gasps and roars from the 2,000-strong audience gathered in the International Convention Centre. That reaction was repeated by millions watching on television, on both sides of Hadrian's Wall, and beyond.

The match, to be played on 15 June, will be the 108th staging of the world's oldest international, but it is the first since 1989 when England beat Scotland 2-0 at Hampden Park. Hooliganism, mainly by Scots in London but also by the English in Glasgow, meant the once annual fixture was then suspended.

Both Terry Venables, the England coach, and Craig Brown, his Scottish counterpart, have been trying to revive the fixture, but opposition from within both Football Associations has prevented them. Now they meet with the stakes raised.

It will be the second match for both countries. After England open the tournament against Switzerland on 8 June, Scotland meet the Netherlands at Villa Park on 10 June. The Dutch were made tournament fav-ourites immediately after the draw, a fair indication of the strength - or weakness - of the group. Compared to what could have happened it is a good draw for both home countries. But it is hard to see both qualifying.

"It could have been worse," Venables admitted. "I was sitting next to Craig and he said: 'I bet we get each other'. When it happened we almost cracked our necks as we turned to look at each other. It is very exciting, it will be a great atmosphere."

The match will be a big test for supporter behaviour, but Venables added: "I am sure the fans will behave. They would not want to mess it up for the future."

More pertinent for England's football fortunes will be the behaviour of Paul Gascoigne, currently playing in Scotland with Rangers. If he can keep his cool in this match, he should be able to do so anywhere. It is a big if.

Venables, who said his preparation had suffered "a big blow" when Graeme Le Saux broke his leg at the weekend (he may be out of the tournament), will now plan his warm-up opponents.

"We will have to contend with an interesting range of styles. The Dutch are very sophisticated. I am a big fan of their game. People say they are weak at the back, but they do not give many goals away. The Swiss will be very well organised and very well prepared. Although we beat them recently, we will not underestimate them."

Brown sounded a cautious note: "Our supporters, our media and maybe our players might think playing England is the European Championship final itself and forget there are two other games. We must peak three times, not just once against England. That may be the problem psychologically."

Glen Kirton, the tournament director, said: "It is time we started playing the fixture again. Every match presents a security challenge, the challenge for this one is arriving at a fair distribution of tickets."

At present, Scotland are allocated a plainly inadequate 7,000 tickets. The Football Association will discuss with Uefa, the Scottish FA and the police how best to increase that. The touts will be chasing every ticket they can lay their hands on.

While the Anglo-Scottish meeting caught the spotlight, the draw threw up another heavyweight meeting of a different nature. Germany and Italy, who have three European Championships and six World Cups between them, meet at Old Trafford on 19 June. It is the final Group C game and if either Russia or the Czech Republic have taken points off them, it could be an eliminator.

Group B, with Spain, Romania, Bulgaria and France is almost as strong. Staged in Leeds and Newcastle, it raises the prospect of David Ginola playing at St James' Park and Eric Cantona returning to Elland Road. First they have to win back their places in the team.

Aime Jaquet, the French manager, said: "We have been playing for more than a year without these players and have qualified and have played well. We now have a new challenge and I have four months to think about whether [Cantona and Ginola] will be involved."

England and Scotland, if they qualify from their group, would meet a team from this group in the quarter-finals. Germany or Italy would probably await in the semi-final. There is, however, a long way to go before then. In the meantime, Wembley will be strengthening the crossbar.

Backing Britain, page 23

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