Football: Brown does sums

Phil Shaw says Scotland must go for broke if they are to reach the finals
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The Independent Online
"Always look on the bright side of life" urged the loudspeakers after Scotland's 2-1 defeat in Gothenburg. Was the song an exhortation to Sweden's players and supporters to believe that they can reach the World Cup finals? Or merely sardonic sympathy for the visitors? Either way, Craig Brown had little option other than to heed the advice.

On the dark side, Scotland failed to build on the strong position secured by victory over Austria. They also passed up the chance to reduce Sweden to also-rans. A defence which had begun to look impregnable succumbed twice to the partnership of Kennet Andersson and Martin Dahlin, while the midfield could not fulfil Brown's prediction of ascendancy.

At first glance, the mathematics of Group Four are also against the Scots. Their maximum points total is now 23, against Austria's 25 and Sweden's 24. However - and this is where they can see the light - their rivals have yet to meet in Vienna.

If Brown's wish for a draw were granted, and Scotland finished level on points with Austria, qualification would come down to goal difference. In the event of the two being equal, Scotland would have the advantage of having taken the balance of the points against Austria. Brown, meanwhile, senses that Sweden carry the greater threat.

For the trek to Belarus on 8 June, the Scotland manager needs no calculators or rule books to realise that his team must go for broke. Despite the former Soviet republic's mediocre position, it was defeat in Minsk which ultimately forced the Netherlands into playing off for a place at Euro 96.

"Our job will be to win our last three matches," Brown said. "It's a lot harder to win five games in a row than three. Austria are in the best position, though I still think Sweden are the best side in the group.''

Minsk will be a fresh test of his resourcefulness, for the Scots will be without Colin Hendry and Colin Calderwood. Hendry's leonine mane and tigerish tackling have made him a symbol of Brown's Scotland, although the manager distanced himself from the Blackburn player's injudicious assertion that the Italian referee favoured Sweden because Uefa's president, Lennart Johannson, is Swedish.

With both defenders booked in for overdue operations - Calderwood would have been suspended anyway - Brown will turn to Rangers' Alan McLaren and the uncapped Christian Dailly, of Derby. Wimbledon's Brian McAllister is also under consideration.

Whoever joins Tom Boyd in the back three, they will not go in "cold". To maintain a competitive edge in his squad after an arduous domestic season, Brown has arranged friendlies against Wales at Kilmarnock on 27 May and in Malta four days later.

In the meantime, remembering Harold Wilson's legendary claim that England only won the World Cup under a Labour government, it would have been intriguing to observe whether success in Sweden would have produced a surge in support for the Scottish National Party in yesterday's poll. To Brown's chagrin, and doubtless that of Alex Salmond, it was not to be.