Football: Gallacher in mood for goals

Scotland 4 Belarus 1
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With the devolution poll looming on Thursday, it fell to Scotland's footballers to stir the nation from the sombre mood of the past week at Aberdeen yesterday. Their victory over Belarus was ultimately as emphatic as it was therapeutic, even if their World Cup destiny is no longer in their own hands.

After this success, secured by two goals each from Kevin Gallacher and David Hopkin, a referendum on the Scots' chances of qualifying for the finals would probably produce a Yes-No vote. Yes, they can still make it to France. No, they are not likely to go through automatically.

Scotland had dreaded a win for either of their rivals to top Group Four, Austria and Sweden, in Vienna on Saturday. The game was within 14 minutes of producing the desired stalemate when Austria scored, putting them in the enviable position of knowing they will win the section provided they beat the Belarussians home and away.

Unless Belarus can spring a surprise in Minsk on Wednesday - and their consolation goal here by Petr Kachuro was the least their skilful counter- attacking merited - Scotland's more likely fate is a play-off for a place in the finals, possibly even against England.

In truth, Craig Brown's team will play better and lose. With their captain and play-maker, Gary McAllister, betraying the effects of a lengthy lay- off, they never quite established the ascendancy suggested by the scoreline and must have been thankful that Belarus' tackling did not match their technique.

The match was a personal triumph for Gallacher, who has fought his way through a catalogue of serious injuries to become, in his 31st year, his country's first-choice striker. Revealing the confidence of a player with five goals from as many matches in the Premiership, he took his tally to five in the last four World Cup fixtures and was denied a hat-trick only by a dubious late challenge by Radislav Orlovski.

Hopkin, in contrast, has not enjoyed the best of starts to his new career with Leeds. However, within four minutes of replacing McAllister he had scored his first international goal, going on to collect his second with a fine solo effort in the closing minutes.

The early goal Brown had hoped would lift the crowd was only five minutes in arriving. Coming straight from the practice pitch, it reprised one John Collins scored in Latvia earlier in the campaign. This time Collins rolled a short free-kick to McAllister 22 yards out. Switching the ball on to his right foot, the Coventry player delivered a shot which Valeri Shantolosov could only parry. Gallacher, anticipating a fumble, proved lethal from 12 inches.

Far from settling Scotland's nerves, the goal appeared to galvanise Belarus. Prompted by Sergei Gerasimets, who cleverly exploited the space left by Christian Dailly's over-adventurous forays, they had chances to draw level before half time. Once, the powerful Kachuro turned Colin Calderwood, who was relieved to see Paul Lambert execute a copybook saving tackle. Later, Kachuro sent a free header straight at Jim Leighton.

His wastefulness was put into sharp relief by the Scots' ruthless start to the second half. Ally McCoist, on for the injured Gordon Durie, looked offside when he took Gallacher's through-pass. The ball was squared to Hopkin, who scuffed it past Shantolosov with only his second touch of the afternoon.

The third goal, three minutes later, followed Scotland's most sustained spell of possession. Lambert, whose alliance with Collins kept his team ticking over, finally fed the ball into the danger zone. Gallacher beat the keeper to the bounce before defeating Viacheslav Gerash chenko's clearance on the line.

Dailly's foul on Andrei Lavrik allowed Kachuro to beat Leighton from the spot - only Sweden, in Gothenburg, had previously scored against Scotland - yet Hopkin was saving the best for last. Sandwiched between shots by Collins and Valentin Belkevich that shook the woodwork, the midfielder beat Andrei Ostrovski twice over and left him on the seat of his pants before firing low past Shantolosov from 18 yards.

"Automatic qualification may be out of our hands, but we can still qualify," Brown said. "We're now hoping Belarus can pick themselves up and that their manager will get into them and build them up for the game with Austria."

Goals: Gallacher (5) 1-0; Hopkin (54) 2-0; Gallacher (57) 3-0; Kachuro pen (73) 3-1, Hopkin (88) 4-1.

SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Leighton (Aberdeen); Calderwood (Tottenham), Boyd (Celtic), Dailly (Derby); Burley (Celtic), G McAllister (Coventry), Lambert (Borussia Dortmund), Collins (Monaco), T McKinlay (Celtic); Gallacher (Blackburn), Durie (Rangers) Substitutes: McCoist (Rangers) for Durie, h-t; Hopkin (Leeds) for McAllister, 50; Dodds (Aberdeen) for Gallacher, 84.

BELARUS (4-5-1): Shantolosov (Baltika Kaliningrad); Lavrik (Dynamo Minsk), Ostrovski (Dynamo Moscow), Gerashchenko (Chernomorets Novorossiisk), Dovnar (Dynamo Minsk); Gerasimets (Zenit St Peterburg), Belkevich (Dynamo Kiev), Zhuravel (Dynamo Minsk), Kulchi (Dynamo Moscow), Gurenko (Lokomotiv Moscow); Kachuro (Sheffield United). Substitutes: Orlovski (Torpedo Luzhniki) for Gurenko, 52; Cherninski (Dynamo Minsk) for Jouravel, 65; Balashov (Belshina Bobruisk) for Gerasimets, 77.

Referee: M van der Ende (Netherlands). Bookings: Belarus: Lavrik, Dovnar.

Man of the match: Gallacher. Attendance: 20,160.