Football: Scotland display technical and tactical failings

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The Independent Online
With two-thirds of the Group Four fixtures still to be completed, it was never going to be Monte Carlo or bust for Scotland's World Cup prospects. All the same, a guileless display against Estonia in the playground of the Cote d'Azure leaves scant margin for error when the quest to qualify resumes in seven weeks' time.

The home games against Estonia and Austria, to be played within five days of each other at Kilmarnock and Celtic Park respectively, both now assume a critical importance. Anything less than a six-point haul and Scotland will have surrendered a hard-won initiative, which would also have the effect of putting them under pressure to win in Sweden at the end of April.

As a consequence of events long before football replaced more bloody conflicts, the Scots are invariably more comfortable as underdogs. When expected to win - and neither the players nor their 2,000-strong following in Monaco appeared to have allowed for any other possibility - the psychological adjustment involved often proves problematic.

That said, Tuesday's failure was as much won of technical and tactical inadequacy as of temperament. When they tried to play through what was basically a nine-man defence, early in the game, the passing was careless and the touch clumsy. The tempo required to drag the Estonian barrier out of shape was conspicuously absent until the 15 minutes before half- time.

During that period, a succession of chances came and went. But having created a modicum of panic through the crosses of Kevin Gallacher, the ploy went to Scotland's heads. Or rather to Duncan Ferguson's head. In the second half, with Gallacher mysteriously switched inside from the right flank, they resorted to pumping the ball hopefully in the direction of their towering striker.

The imprecision of it all enabled Estonia's equally tall stopper, Marek Lemsalu, and the goalkeeper Mart Poom to take the ball in the air with considerable success. Ferguson, who has scored only once at any level for his country, was fortunate not to be one of the three Scots substituted. Of those who were taken off, Paul McStay was a half-paced shadow of his former self, cementing the impression that he and Gary McAllister tend to duplicate each other.

At least now Scotland can be under no illusions as to the task facing them when Estonia visit Ayrshire on 29 March. Needless to say, the Estonians enjoyed the jaunt hugely and must feel that their extraordinary decision not to turn up for the original fixture in Tallinn has been vindicated.

As a result of adding a point to their modest tally, the players from the tiny Baltic state also earned a bonus of pounds 250 a man - equivalent to a month's wages and two and half times the national monthly average. A vice-president of the Estonian FA, Mart Tarmak, said: "So far it has cost us quite a lot but we're not complaining. We were 128th in the Fifa world rankings, now we're 101st. This draw should help us climb even higher."