Football: Scotland face trip into the unknown

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The Independent Online
Scotland, having taken the balance of points from Austria and come out even with Sweden, must guard against their almost traditional generosity to supposedly weaker countries when the World Cup campaign resumes against Belarus in Minsk tomorrow.

If February's draw with Estonia in Monaco did not quite rank alongside Costa Rica and Iran in the litany of largesse, its impact on Scottish hopes of advancing from Group Four to France might have to be reassessed should Craig Brown's under-strength team fail to beat Belarus.

Victory in their last three Group Four games - the Scots conclude at home to Latvia and Belarus - would guarantee at least second place and a strong chance of qualification. Anything less and Scotland will be reduced to relying on the three former Soviet republics to take points off Austria and Sweden.

The match represents a trip into the unknown in more respects than Brown would have liked. Their inaugural meeting with Belarus (they are the first British side to play there) also finds him forced into major adjustments to his tried and trusted defence.

In the absence of the two Colins, Hendry and Calderwood, who are both recovering from surgery, the Scotland manager used the friendlies against Wales and Malta to evaluate the merits of Christian Dailly, David Weir and Brian McAllister. While the latter pair were unconvincing, Brown has little option other than to use one with Tom Boyd and Dailly in a back three.

Doubts over that department are counter-balanced by Paul Lambert's return after his European Cup heroics. The Dortmund player may be deputed to pick up Valentin Belkevich, whom Brown likens to Georgi Kinkladze. Belkevich, he warned topically, puts a "Brazilian bend" on his free-kicks.

The injury to John Collins in Malta provides a further dilemma. Darren Jackson could replace him in midfield, letting Gordon Durie in up front, though that would mean splitting up the burgeoning partnership between Jackson and Kevin Gallacher.

"We'll go out with a positive attitude and I'm asking the players for one final effort at the end of a long, hard season," Brown said. "I rate Belarus on a par with Latvia, who we did well to beat in Riga. But if we could get a goal I'd hope some of their players might lose interest, with us being top and them bottom."

Two years ago today, Belarus beat the Netherlands 1-0 in a European Championship qualifier. Despite their inability to build on that triumph, Brown is only too aware that two-thirds of their squad play with leading Moscow clubs and will be underestimated at Scotland's peril.

SCOTLAND (probable; 3-1-4-2): Leighton (Hibernian); Dailly (Derby), Weir (Hearts), Boyd (Celtic); Lambert (Dortmund); Burley (Chelsea), Jackson (Hibernian), G McAllister (Coventry), T McKinlay (Celtic); Gallacher (Blackburn), Durie (Rangers).