Football: Doubly sweet day for the little big man of England

EURO 2000: SCOTLAND V ENGLAND: Ordinary Scots no match for Club Keegan

THERE WILL BE much diplomacy over the next few days, just as there has been since the day the draw for the European Championship play-offs turned a game of international football into a playground spat, but England can realistically start to plan for a summer on the continent after a raucous occasion at Hampden Park.

Fervour and passion aside, this was not much of a contest. Scotland, as even their most ardent supporters had feared, were desperately mediocre, a shadow of some of the sides that have graced Hampden Park down the years, short of imagination and luck when it mattered. England had only to match the Scots in the traditional terrain of heart and soul to allow superior footballing skill to triumph. They managed that with spirit to spare.

It was, said Kevin Keegan, the best team performance England had produced under his guidance. "Not hard, I admit," he added with a nice touch of self-deprecation, but a vindication of the Club England unity Keegan is trying to foster. "We've huffed and puffed a bit, but we've never blown the house down, have we?" If not hurricane force, England kept a steady, chilling, breeze blowing through Hampden. The Scots' most fluent period came just before half-time, but once Paul Scholes had headed the second, England had only to draw up the barricades to protect a precious advantage.

The silence at the final whistle, punctuated by the chanting from the England supporters, spoke volumes for the discipline and efficiency of the England performance. Only rarely did the central pair of Tony Adams and Martin Keown allow the diminutive front runners to dart between them and, when they did, David Seaman belied his recent indifferent form with a vital save with his legs. Had Scotland managed to equalise then, just a minute after Scholes had given England a deserved lead, the game would have been balanced as finely as the last match, in the finals of the 1996 European Championship. Kevin Gallacher's carelessness - "I sent David [Seaman] the wrong way but just didn't lift the ball high enough" - revived memories of Gary McAllister's missed penalty on that sunny Wembley afternoon. Scotland have not scored against England since 1986, which lent some sense of perspective to Craig Brown's desperate optimism. "We tend to score away from home, but we will have to score early at Wembley to open the game up again," the Scotland coach said.

Otherwise, a match of predictably insular virtues, of physical presence and frantic pace, produced a thoroughly predictable roll-call of heroes. Sol Campbell, asked to play out of position at right-back, res-ponded with a near flawless display of defending. Adams and Keown were not far behind and if the combination of Phil Neville and Jamie Redknapp was hardly the ideal long-term solution to the left-sided vacuum, Scotland never managed to profit from their lack of cohesion. "You look at David Seaman through to Jamie Redknapp, from 1 to 11, and say to them all: `Yes, you played your part'," said Keegan.

With space at a premium down the wings, the game was compressed into the narrow corridors of midfield where Alan Shearer won his personal battle on points with Colin Hendry and the anticipation of Michael Owen's pace as much as the reality of it forced Scotland's cumbersome back line to defend deeper than they would have liked.

Owen's nonchalant dance past David Weir in the opening exchanges triggered the hazard warning lights for the Scottish defence, though it was Scholes, first with a neat chest and turn past Hendry and then, just before half- time, with a header who proved the difference between the two sides. We want the hand grenades of Poland (when he scored a hat-trick), not the Exocets of Sweden (when he was sent off), Arthur Cox, Keegan's assistant, had told Scholes the night before the game. This, though, was neither; it was the deadliness of the stiletto.

Whether England showed the sort of teamwork and technical expertise to frighten the Dutch, the Germans or the Italians is a debating issue for a later day. There is a little matter of a return leg at Wembley to negotiate first. The Scots at least know what they have to do: beat England by two goals or more at Wembley for the first time in 50 years, but they had a big enough sniff of success, notably when Billy Dodds struck the crossbar in the first half, to construct some rickety scaffolding of hope by Wednesday night.

England had the game well under control by half-time, thanks largely to Scholes' opportunism, the width of the crossbar and the undeniable fact that Scotland are a desperately ordinary side. It was hard to find a Scotsman who would disagree with that judgement, but as objectivity has never been a notable feature of these cross-border conflicts, the truth had been largely obscured by the hype, which reached absurd heights of nationalism in the Scottish tabloids yesterday morning.

Keegan can take much credit for the victory, not for any tactical insight - it was hardly that sort of game - but for the perfect balance he found between motivation and mayhem. He barely put a foot wrong all week in the interview room. He has been humorous, courteous, cautious and noticeably relaxed. As a player he relished a helter skelter scrap and it seems no different now that he is confined to a tracksuit. His resolute refusal to play up the chances of his own team had deprived the Scots of ammunition in the preliminary propaganda war. The boos and jeers which drowned the national anthem, though depressingly predictable, only steeled English nerve. The vociferous England contingent more than held their own in the battle for the airwaves. With Scholes striking every 20 minutes in the first half, they had two reasons to be cheerful.

"I thought we handled the atmosphere just right," Keegan added. "I like to sing our anthem, but I honestly couldn't hear it and nor could the players. Once we'd heard it later from the fans, I knew everything was OK. But anyone who thought this place wasn't intimidating should have been sitting where we were for 10 minutes." Brown blamed some "slipshod" defending for a Scottish plight which would have tested the resolve of a Rob Roy.

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: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor