The farce of the fixture which failed to get off the ground in Estonia was followed by the dizzy heights of a 1-0 win over Sweden at Ibrox. Then after the downward lurch of two lost points against Estonia in Monte Carlo, they were upwardly mobile once more by virtue of last month's victory over Austria at Celtic Park. A win or even a draw against the Swedes tonight would lift Scotland into nosebleed territory. Defeat would turn the run-in to Group Four into a free-for-all more reminiscent of the dodgems than the big dipper.
If the mood of their manager, Craig Brown, is any guide, the Scots will certainly not be overawed by the nation who finished third in the 1994 finals. Brown expects the hardest match of their campaign, though in contrast to his predecessor, Andy Roxburgh, he was happy yesterday to talk up the prospects of what will probably be an unchanged team.
The struggle for supremacy between the respective trios in central midfield will, he believes, be the key to the outcome. Sweden, whose need to make up lost ground is expected to persuade Tommy Svensson to opt for a 4-3- 3 formation, look especially strong in that department. The Rangers-bound Jonas Thern and the former Arsenal player Stefan Schwarz both ply their trade in Serie A while Par Zetterberg has built a good reputation in Belgium.
"They're a very powerful unit," Brown admitted. "But I look at our players and I see a lot of quality. We've watched them very carefully in the flesh and on tape, and I believe we match up to them." Paul McStay (ankle) is the only injury doubt, but even if fit he would be hard pushed to break up the trio comprising Gary McAllister, John Collins and Paul Lambert.
McAllister, who will collect his 50th cap, will pit his wits against Zetterberg in the knowledge that this is likely to be his last opportunity to play in the World Cup finals. Equally he is aware that turning out for Coventry at places like Bury and Port Vale would not be the ideal preparation for the global stage.
Collins - "the fittest guy in European football," Brown claimed - possesses a dynamism which Schwarz, not the quickest of midfielders, may struggle to rival. Lambert, whose game-appreciation has improved immeasurably during his contribution to Dortmund's advance to the European Cup final, will again be the anchor man.
In their last open training session, Scotland played with a flat back four, leaving Svensson to ponder whether Brown plans to switch to the 4-4-2 system he last deployed against the Dutch during Euro 96. The likelihood is that he will again trust in 3-5-2.
In goal, Jim Leighton returns to the venue where he helped Aberdeen overcome Real Madrid to lift the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1983 (then, as now, Gothenburg was wet and windswept). Remarkably, the 39-year-old, whose 78th appearance will make him the second most-capped Scot behind Kenny Dalglish, has not conceded a goal in competitive action for his country since Brazil's late winner at Italia 90 looked to have curtailed his international career.
Leighton was in the side who defeated Sweden in Genoa seven years ago. In fact, Scotland have won all four competitive fixtures against the Swedes, the most recent success being achieved without McAllister. A repeat performance would cast their hosts 11 points adrift, but Brown would settle for the goalless stalemate of which Scotland's new-found defensive meanness makes them eminently capable.
SWEDEN (4-3-3; probable): Ravelli (Gothenburg); Sundgren (AIK Stockholm), Bjorkland (Rangers), P Andersson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Kamark (Leicester); Thern (Roma), Zetterberg (Anderlecht), Schwarz (Forentina); A Andersson (Gothenburg), K Andersson (Bologna), Dahlin (Monchengladbach).
SCOTLAND (3-5-2; probable): Leighton (Hibernian); Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyle (Celtic); Burley (Chelsea), G McAllister (Coventry), Lambert (Borussia Dortmund), Collins (Monaco), T McKinlay (Celtic); Jackson (Hibernian), Gallacher (Blackburn).
P W D L F A Pts
Scotland 6 4 2 0 7 0 14
Austria 4 2 1 1 3 3 7
Sweden 4 2 0 2 7 4 6
Estonia 4 1 1 2 1 3 4
Belarus 4 1 1 2 3 7 4
Latvia 4 0 1 3 3 7 1
Remaining fixtures: Today: Austria v Estonia; Sweden v Scotland; Latvia v Belarus. 18 May: Estonia v Latvia. 8 June: Estonia v Sweden; Latvia v Austria; Belarus v Scotland. 20 Aug: Estonia v Austria; Belarus v Sweden. 6 Sept: Austria v Sweden; Scotland v Belarus; Latvia v Estonia. 10 Sept: Sweden v Latvia; Belarus v Austria. 11 Oct: Austria v Belarus; Scotland v Latvia; Sweden v Estonia.Reuse content