Football: McCoist in merry mood

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The Independent Online
On the day when one bookmaker shortened the odds against Scotland so much as scoring a goal at Euro 96 from 8-1 to 11-2, their leading marksman was adeptly tucking away his chances in a press conference at their training camp in Shakespeare country.

Ally McCoist, 18 goals to his name from 52 caps, was reminded that he was hardly a merchant of menace during Italia 90 or Euro 92. Did his failure to score in either worry him, his inquisitor pressed, or would he be happy as long as somebody netted for the Scots?

"Individual targets," McCoist began, solemn-faced and apparently about to trot out a platitude, "aren't important compared with the team's needs." As we dutifully scribbled, he added: "I'm sure you've all heard that rubbish before," and then dissolved into laughter.

Earlier, when Craig Brown shook his head in mystified denial of an alleged collision in training between Scotland's goalkeepers, the Rangers striker nodded encouragement to the assembled scribes. Out of the manager's line of vision, McCoist mimed blood spurting from head wounds like Marcel Marceau acting out a gory scene from a Sam Peckinpah movie.

Andy Goram and Jim Leighton were, it transpired, in fine fettle. Only one player, Eoin Jess, missed yesterday's sessions after reporting a thigh strain. However, the Coventry midfielder is expected to be available when Scotland - rated as 15th favourites at 80-1 to win the tournament - open against the Netherlands at Villa Park on Monday.

Brown, who will delay naming his side until an hour before the match, was unfazed by reports that Patrick Kluivert, the Dutch striker, may not be fit. "Whether he plays or not, we'll be prepared," he said. "Alex Miller [assistant manager] and I saw them play very well without him against the Republic of Ireland, and anyway, whoever came in would have more experience."

Colin Hendry was more concerned that Scotland would have what he considered the psychological advantage of occupying Villa's Holte End. He also joined McCoist and Gary McAllister, the captain, in signing Uefa's "Fair Play Pledge". Noting that Hendry appeared to hesitate before obliging, another of the Scottish entourage suggested he was worried it might be a legal and binding document.

Over at St Albans, the mood in the Dutch camp was more sombre. After the blow of losing Frank de Boer at a late stage, and the doubts over Kluivert, Guus Hiddink, the Netherlands coach, will now have Peter Hoekstra and Phillip Cocu under treatment for ankle injuries as he travels to join Brown in watching today's opening game at Wembley.