Football: Brown puts his faith in midfield power

TWO WINS and two draws from their last four qualifying fixtures would guarantee Scotland a play-off for a place at European football's top table next summer. Perhaps Craig Brown is still suspicious of the arithmetic, for he arrived here last night talking about the need for maximum points, while the side he plans to send out against Bosnia-Herzegovina this evening has clearly been conceived with victory in mind.

After the way in which a patched-up Scotland surrendered a two-goal lead in Prague in June, providing the Czech Republic with the points they needed to reach Euro 2000, Brown might have been forgiven for devising a safety- first strategy for what he terms the "trickiest" of their remaining assignments. After all, once Wednesday's match against Estonia in Tallinn is over, the Scots finish with eminently winnable home games against Bosnia and Lithuania.

Instead, the Scotland manager has opted to accentuate the positive. Heartened by the Republic of Ireland's defeat of Yugoslavia, whom he regards as technically similar but superior to Bosnia, Brown hinted yesterday at a midfield bristling with scoring potential and the ability to attack from wide positions. At the same time he will resist the temptation to reinforce his favoured three at the back.

To a selection likely to contain only four players who started in Prague - Colin Calderwood, David Weir, Billy Dodds, and Neil Sullivan, who keeps his place in goal despite Wimbledon's shaky start and the challenge of Jonathan Gould - Brown is certain to restore John Collins, David Hopkin, Craig Burley and Neil McCann in the engine room.

Collins, who has not played for Scotland for a year because of injury, boasts 11 international goals, making him the top scorer among the current squad. Hopkin and Burley have both proved their capacity to find the net for club and country, while McCann made a hugely promising first full appearance against the Czechs at Celtic Park in March.

With even the holding role occupied by a player renowned for his defensive- splitting passes, the 21-year-old Barry Ferguson, Brown was justified in describing it as "a team designed not to sit in and defend". He added: "We could have put in Paul Ritchie and Christian Dailly to shore things up, but that's not our style. We've got to be positive.

"We need not to lose, but I don't think we've really got the mentality to go out to defend and play on the counter-attack. If we went into a 2-0 lead this time then we've got the capability to tighten it up. It's a major boost having Colin Hendry, John Collins and Craig Burley back. If we'd had those three in Prague, we'd never have let that lead slip."

Brown's approach to the match is almost frivolous compared with his customary caution and pragmatism. His attitude may be informed both by the knowledge that, for once, he has virtually a full-strength squad and by Bosnia's apparent decline since their stunning wins over Italy and Denmark shortly after the painful breakaway from Yugoslavia.

Since then, Bosnia have lost to China and Malta, among others, the latter defeat in January prompting the appointment of Faruk Hadzibegic as coach. A defender when Yugoslavia drew in Glasgow during qualifying for Italia 90, Hadzibegic has been saying that Scotland regard victory as a formality in an attempt to fire up his players.

In fact, for all Brown's untypical bravado, he is anything but blase. "I understand Bosnia have been more consistent under the new coach," he said. "Before, they could be brilliant, like when they beat the Danes 3-0, though they could also get results like the 2-2 draw with the Faroe Islands, who missed a penalty too. We've just got to impose ourselves on them."

Scottish optimism has been encouraged by the news that Bosnia's outstanding midfielders, Real Madrid's Elvir Baljic and Bayern Munich's Hasan Salihamadzic, are injured and suspended respectively. However, they will still field a team largely comprised of players based abroad, including Coventry's Muhamed Konjic.

Konjic fought for Bosnia's freedom as an infantryman against invading Serbs and Croats. The first transfer fee he commanded, on leaving FC Sarajevo for NK Zagreb, was paid in food parcels. His home city still bears the scars of war, the bus which took Scotland from the airport to their hotel having passed the shells of bullet-riddled buildings.

The Bosnian team is, therefore, unlikely to want for national pride. At kick-off they stand just one goal behind the Scots, yet Brown remains bullish about achieving the desired results in their six-day mini-tour of the Balkans and the Baltics.

BOSNIA (Probable): Dedic (Zenica); Joldic (Sloboda), Hibic (Sevilla), Konjic (Coventry), Mujdza (Hajduk Split); Topic (Monza); Besirevic (Osijek), Barbarez (Borussia Dortmund), Halilovic (Altay); Kodro (Alaves), Bolic (Fenerbahce).

SCOTLAND (Probable): Sullivan (Wimbledon); Weir (Everton), Hendry (Rangers), Calderwood (Aston Villa); Hopkin (Leeds), Burley (Celtic), B Ferguson (Rangers), Collins (Everton), McCann (Rangers); Hutchison (Everton), Dodds (Dundee United).

Referee: N Levnikov (Russia).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...