Football: Scotland find new sense of self-belief

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND'S REMARKABLE victory over Germany produced an effect which an army of sports psychologists, faith healers and self-styled motivational gurus might have struggled to achieve. By beating the European champions in their own backyard, Craig Brown's makeshift team changed perceptions on the question of qualifying for Euro 2000 at a stroke.

Among the management, players and fans, the belief that Scotland can now go on and repeat Wednesday's feat by winning away to the Czech Republic, their principal rivals in Group Nine, was strong as they returned to prepare for such trifling matters as Sunday's Old Firm derby. Suddenly, the end of season friendly no one wanted did not seem such a bad idea.

Since the Czechs' win in Scotland a month ago, Brown had been almost alone in contending there was no reason why Scotland could not turn the tables on 9 June. Admitting that he would gladly trade the triumph in Bremen for one in Prague, he added: "I was criticised after the match in Glasgow for suggesting that we could win over there. But if we get players back, it is by no means out of the question."

Brown may be less inclined to ring the changes than might have been the case before the success in the Weserstadion. Several of the fringe players, most notably the match-winner Don Hutchison, would have cause to feel aggrieved if they were returned to the bench when Scotland resume competitive action in the Faroe Islands on 5 June.

It is, of course, possible to read too much into a friendly, especially when a number of the opposing players have a European Cup date with Manchester United on their minds. Some Scottish supporters and scribes still harp back to an overhead kick which Duncan Ferguson crashed against the German bar in 1993, citing it as evidence (in the absence of any goals) of the big striker's potential at the highest level.

Like his former Everton team-mate, Hutchison has suffered from image problems, albeit without falling foul of the law. However, he already looks likely to achieve more internationally. Praising the Tynesider, who has a Scottish father, Brown said: "Don did outstandingly well in three different roles - up front, on the left of midfield, and once Paul Lambert went off, as the anchor man."

Brown singled out Hutchison for "a right good chat" during the extended half-time interval - the floodlights, like the German side, suffered a power failure - and told him that the game offered an opportunity to lay the foundations for an international career. In keeping with his colleagues, he just needed to be more confident. "It was a psychological thing," explained the manager, "facing the white jerseys of the European champions." Others who probably booked their places for the June double header were Alan Johnston, of Sunderland, whose old-fashioned winger's skills exposed a defensive weakness in Bayern Munich's Thomas Strunz that will not have gone unnoticed by Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs.

Callum Davidson, the Blackburn left-back, gave another assured display, which included an "assist" on the goal. The commitment of Colin Hendry, Tom Boyd and Lambert made nonsense of suggestions that they would be saving themselves for the Celtic-Rangers match.

Churlish as it may sound to point out weaknesses, David Weir's positional sense at right-back was not all it might have been. Colin Calderwood, who is playing regularly in the Premiership again after signing for Aston Villa, might be a more judicious choice.

Craig Burley should also return, at the expense of Scot Gemmill or Ian Durrant, with Hutchison perhaps joining him in midfield. Up front, the work-rate of Billy Dodds may not be enough to prevent Neil McCann being given the chance to build on a performance of great promise against the Czechs.

Whoever starts the next game, Brown deserves enormous credit for his shrewd marshalling of depleted resources. Many managers, conscious of how a win in Germany would look on their CV, would have been tempted to leave well alone. He stuck to his promise not to over-exert players at a critical point in the domestic campaign and, in the closing stages, bravely blooded the Hearts' pair Paul Ritchie and Colin Cameron.

Brown may have felt some sympathy for his opposite number, Erich Ribbeck. Germany's coach was mauled by the media after a 3-0 defeat in the United States but argued in mitigation that the match came during the Bundesliga's winter break. There could be no such excuses on this occasion.

One kept waiting for the Germans to press the button and move into top gear, yet it never happened. We can not know whether things would have been different in a competitive game, but there were signs that the three- time world champions genuinely do not have a generation coming through to replace Klinsmann, Kohler and company.

Lothar Matthaus, while still their main creative force, looked his 38 years in the second half. Oliver Bierhoff did not show the sharpness expected of a player who averages two goals every three games for his country. Only the Italian-based midfielder Jorg Heinrich revealed the expected quality.

Ribbeck, who noted that "it sounded as if there were 27,000 Scots in the stadium", may struggle to ensure Germany defend their title next year.