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Football Euro 2000: History stands in way of Scotland's ultimate goal

t PLAY-OFF SHOWDOWN Keegan's selection pays off as England dominate in attack and defence to leave Brown's men requiring a miracle at Wembley
ONE BY one, the players filed into Hampden Park's plush new media centre. Having showered and dressed and collected their thoughts, they were ready to kick-start the hype ahead of their second confrontation while the dust was still settling on the first. If the party line was "It's only half-time", the spontaneous reaction of Scotland's captain, before he had even reached the changing rooms, rang truest about the prospects for Wembley on Wednesday.

The normally indomitable Colin Hendry, looking as if he had just gone 12 rounds with Lennox Lewis after his first game in five weeks, admitted Scotland needed "a ridiculously impressive performance" to overturn Saturday's two-goal deficit and deny England a place in next summer's European Championship finals.

The record books reveal Hendry's comment to be an understatement. To turn this play-off on its head, Scotland must conjure the kind of victory they have not managed on English soil since Craig Brown carried conkers and marbles in an eight-year-old's short trousers rather than statistics and strategies in his head.

Exactly half a century has passed since Stanley Matthews and company were trounced 3-1 beneath the twin towers. Before that, one has to go back to 1928, when the "Wembley Wizards" won 5-1, for an away upset on the scale now required.

There is slender hope for Scotland in more recent history. After the setback at Wembley during Euro 96, by the same score, the players purged their frustration with what one euphemistically termed "a few drinks". Four days later they gave their best attacking display of Brown's six years as manager, swarming over Switzerland at Villa Park but having to settle for a 1-0 win.

This time, even 2-0 would do no more than take the tie to penalties. However, the fact that England did not add to two first-half goals by Paul Scholes - who demonstrated an opportunist bent rivalled only by the nationalistic bile of certain newspapers either side of the border - gives Scotland what Hendry described as "a glimmer of hope".

Martin Keown, a veritable boulder in Kevin Keegan's rock-like back-line, acknowledged that the Scots would be "wounded" and therefore dangerous, though he was adamant there would be "no complacency and no gloating" from England. "If you lose, you always want to play against the side who have just beaten you. So we need to make sure we finish the job off."

The Arsenal defender, coolest head in the Hampden hot house, had prepared mentally for "a them-or-us situation" by ignoring the prattle of Britain. "I didn't read a single paper all week, or watch any of the television coverage," Keown said, "and I'll do the same between now and Wednesday."

Paul Ince clearly had followed the media, Middlesbrough's midfield enforcer suggesting that Scotland had played a shrewd psychological game before the match in Glasgow. "They were clever the way they put all the pressure on us, saying we had to win, but we responded well."

Ince praised David Seaman, who is becoming the scourge of the Scots, arguing that he had "proved he's still the No 1 goalkeeper in England" after some "hurtful" criticism. The self-styled Guv'nor also identified England's "spine" - Seaman, Tony Adams, himself (naturally) and Alan Shearer - as vital and claimed they were fired up by Scottish attempts to sabotage "God Save the Queen".

The Scots' own anthem, "Flower of Scotland", tells how they once sent an English army "homeward to think again". If we are not to witness another deflowering of Scotland - they have lost 10 and won just two of the last 14 encounters - it is Brown who must re-think and find, as Celtic's Craig Burley put it with an air of poignancy, "a wee bit of magic from somewhere".

His options are limited, although Kevin Gallacher's suspension after a harsh booking by the over-zealous Spanish referee means a change of partner for Billy Dodds up front. Mark Burchill, while offering speed to test Adams and Keown, is still a raw novice. Brown may be tempted instead to reunite Dodds with Don Hutchison, who played and scored together in away wins over Germany and Bosnia earlier this year.

Hutchison has much-needed height but lacks pace, and moving him would further reduce the creativity of a mundane midfield. Alternatively, the Rangers winger Neil McCann could play as a striker, or as a wing-back with instructions to get behind the English defence. Paul Ritchie, who did a diligent marking job on David Beckham, offers nothing going forward, and Brown surely has to gamble on a player who can penetrate.

If Keegan is thinking along similar lines, Steve Froggatt or Steve Guppy would lend a more positive presence to the left flank than Phil Neville. Jamie Redknapp did not find the space he likes in a congested midfield, and there would be case for bringing in Dennis Wise were it not for the suspicion that an atmosphere as volatile as Saturday's would severely strain on his self-control.

Andy Cole could keep his place ahead of Michael Owen, who does not look match-sharp. The bottom line, though, is that the England coach has no need to tinker. His main task is to ensure total concentration when Scotland strive to seize the initiative early on, as an Englishman with See-you- Jimmy red hair did so effectively.

"England took their chances, we didn't," opined Brown. "But we're not conceding anything. We've got a big following going to London and we can't let them down. We must give value. Kevin's team will come out to please their home fans, which should open the game up a bit. It will certainly do that if we score first, and we've an excellent record of scoring away from home."

Brown then reeled off a list of countries against whose net the Scots have bulged on their travels. Brazil, France, Norway, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Germany: prestigious names all, yet probably a red, or tartan, herring. Four of those games were lost and only one, a friendly in Bremen, was won.