Football: Brown plays down Scotland's superiority

Euro 2000: Scotland manager guards against complacency while Republic look to teenager to inspire a rout of Malta
SCOTLAND'S PLAYERS will be required to make a giant leap of the imagination when they confront Estonia this evening. Against a fledgling football nation without even a medium-sized scalp to their name, who have never qualified for either of the major tournaments, Craig Brown wants the Scots to regard themselves as the underdogs.

Brown's logic is that Scotland are seldom at their best "when we're expected just to turn up and win". So he intends to tell his team to approach the game - in which victory would all but confirm their place in the play- offs for Euro 2000 as Group Nine runners-up - as if they were facing France or Germany.

The Scotland manager sought to disabuse his squad of any complacency by forcing them to endure a video nasty yesterday. It showed Estonia leading 2-1 in Edinburgh last October with 20 minutes remaining. Although the film had a happy ending, Brown is confident the message hit home.

The Scots' selection plans are slightly up in the air because of the ankle injury David Hopkin suffered in Sarajevo. However, Brown has no qualms about changing a winning team anyway. He believes Estonia are more rigid tactically than Bosnia, being committed to a 4-4-2 formation, and will devise his side and strategy accordingly.

To counter the pace of Estonia's front two, Anders Oper and Indrek Zelinski, he will almost certainly restore Christian Dailly at the expense of Colin Calderwood or David Weir. Hopkin, whose long throws Brown views as a potential source of goals on a narrow pitch, will give way to the Sunderland contract rebel Allan Johnston wide on the right if he does not recover.

Callum Davidson is expected to return after suspension at left wingback, thereby freeing Neil McCann to use his speed through the centre. Don Hutchison is likely to operate in his best position, just off the front two, with Barry Ferguson stepping down and John Collins in the anchor role.

Collins captained his country for the only time in the three-second farce, which followed Estonia's refusal to recognise Uefa's late change of the kick-off time in 1996, when Scotland last visited the Kadriorg Stadium. Like Brown, the Everton midfielder sees the fact that the hosts could still snatch second place as a help rather than a hindrance.

"If Estonia want to qualify, they have to come out and try to beat us," Collins said. "They're normally delighted to draw 0-0. After loosing only 3-2 at Tynecastle they may come into this one with more confidence and open up a bit."

Brown, who was almost gung-ho by his own standards before Saturday's win, warned that Estonia are "awkward, frustrating opponents". But he added: "I am full of conviction. I did say I wanted four points from these two away fixtures, with a preference for beating Bosnia. Now we are getting greedy and we want six.

"Its all the more important to win here because Bosnia, with [Elvir] Balgic of Real Madrid back in midfield, could be dangerous on the break at Ibrox. Its all very well assuming we'll win our home games next month, but that's easier said than done."

Meanwhile, Estonia were busy reminding Brown that Scotland cannot avoid being seen as favourites. Dailly received a visit at the Scotland's hotel from Mart Poom, his former Derby team-mate. "Mart was playing down the possibility of qualifying," he said. "They like being the underdogs, and he was saying: `go easy on us'."

The home side's coach, Teitur Thordarsson, pointed out that Estonia were new to such situations compared with Scotland. Asked about the black comedy which twins today's rivals in football folklore, the Icelander said: "No one is thinking of what happened three years ago - but you can tell Mr Brown we will be there this time."

ESTONIA (probable): Poom (Derby); Kirs (Kotkan, Fin), Hohlov-Simson, Piiroja, Saviauk (all Flora Tallinn); Kristal, Anniste (both Flora), Reim (Kotkan), Terehhov (Flora); Zelinski (Flora), Oper (Aalborg, Den).

SCOTLAND (probable): Sullivan (Wimbledon); Dailly (Blackburn), Hendry (Rangers), Weir (Everton) or Calderwood (Aston Villa); Hopkin (Leeds) or Johnston (Sunderland), Burley (Celtic), Collins (Everton), Davidson (Blackburn); Hutchison (Everton); Dodds (Dundee United), McCann (Rangers).

Referee: F Stuchlik (Austria).

n Scotland Under-21s maintained their recent run of good form with a 4-0 win over their Estonian counterparts here yesterday in their Euro 2000 qualifier. Alex Smith's side followed up their 5-2 victory over Bosnia on Saturday with another stylish display. The goals came from Gavin Rae, Mark Burchill, Steven Thompson and a Paul Dalglish penalty.