After missing out on the magic and megabucks of the World Cup, the Scots are desperate to make the short hop to England two years hence. Group Eight, which also includes Russia, Greece, San Marino and the Faroe Islands, offers one of the more accessible routes, in that there is no Germany, Italy or Netherlands blocking the way. So the side Craig Brown will field against Finland is likely to accentuate the positive.
If the Scots can make a successful start, they have an ideal chance to accrue more points at home to the Faroes and Russia this autumn. Quite how the Scotland manager intends to set about the task is, however, a matter he preferred to keep from the Finns until tonight.
Brown's job, as ever, is a balancing act. If, as looks certain, the revitalised Paul McStay wins his 70th cap alongside Gary McAllister, he would seem compelled to complement the two playmakers with a ball-winner. Billy McKinlay is associated less with such qualities than Stuart McCall and, despite the Dundee United man's two goals from four caps, he may start on the bench.
With John Collins also in a rich vein of club form, Brown's embarrassment of midfield riches is almost comparable with England's sudden surfeit of strikers.
Options are more limited in other areas, and Brown has also had to assess the pros and cons of man-marking Finland's outstanding attacker, Jari Litmanen. Alan McLaren, of Hearts, once subdued Robert Baggio by slavishly shadowing him, but the likelihood is that Scotland will instead look to McCall to stifle the supply line.
Hendry, who may well pick up Litmanen, is to play with a headband protecting a wound sustained in a collision with a concrete wall at Arsenal. The Blackburn stopper epitomises Scottish spirit; having seen most of Litmanen's 26 goals for Ajax last season on video, he did not believe the 23-year- old could be any more problematic than 'the Wrights, Coles or Collymores'.
Up front, there is no feasible alternative to the untried pairing of Duncan Shearer and Andy Walker. Shearer, at 32, is in line for his first start for Scotland, with Walker winning his second cap in six years on the strength of a three-goal start to his second spell with Celtic. 'In our hour of need,' said Brown, 'Andy is hot.'
Finland have never reached a major finals and football's popularity lags behind that of ice hockey, athletics, ski jumping, rally driving and the tango, which is implausibly and massively popular. The national team scored in only one of five home World Cup group games, with even Litmanen managing just three goals in 35 internationals.
Moreover, a venue which the Rolling Stones, Billy Graham and Lasse Viren have all packed is unlikely to be tested to within more than a quarter of its 41,000 capacity. Getting 'a result' would not, therefore, constitute a towering achievement by Scotland, but it would do more than satisfactorily for starters.
SCOTLAND (possible): Goram (Rangers); McKimmie (Aberdeen), Hendry (Blackburn), Levein (Hearts), Boyd (Celtic); McCall (Rangers), McStay (Celtic), McAllister (Leeds, capt), Collins (Celtic); Shearer (Aberdeen), Walker (Celtic).Reuse content