Football: Scotland seek to repress cavalier attitude

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The Independent Online
AS A player who memorably recalls playing through the pain barrier as "like towing a grand piano behind me", Craig Burley was always likely to be receptive to Craig Brown's strictures on the importance of patience as Scotland strive for the victory over Estonia tomorrow that could confirm their place in the play-offs for Euro 2000.

The Celtic midfielder emerged from training in a Baltic heatwave to concur with Brown's advice about how to break through, or round, the two lines of four which Estonia routinely pull behind the ball. Quite apart from the sapping temperatures here, Scotland's experiences of their hosts suggest that Burley's colleagues will ignore their manager's counsel at their peril.

When the nations met in Monte Carlo in 1997, in the rematch of the three- second fiasco over the floodlighting at the Kadriorg Stadium four months earlier, Scotland piled forward unintelligently and were almost caught out in the dying seconds of the barren draw. In Edinburgh last October, Estonia's combination of obdurate defence and quickfire counter-attacking threatened an upset before two late goals turned their 2-1 lead into a 3-2 defeat.

"It's vital that we are patient," Burley said. "Usually, if you haven't scored in the first 20 minutes you're under pressure. The temptation is to bomb on like we did against them at Tynecastle, when we got caught on the break.

"There's no doubt that Bosnia [who Scotland beat 2-1 in Sarajevo on Saturday] are a better team than Estonia, but the job is still there to be done. That was proved when we played them in Monaco, which could well have mucked up our place in the World Cup finals."

Burley expects Scotland to enjoy a greater share of possession than in the previous match. He is wary, however, of the pace of Estonia's front two, Anders Oper and the Blackpool-bound Indrek Zelinski, which provides an outlet that could turn a dour stalemate into a cause for dancing in the cobbled streets of this scenic city.

Billy Dodds, who shares the Ayrshire background of both Burley and Brown, is also prepared for an attritional evening. "It might be the second half before we score, though we wont break them down through fitness alone," the Dundee United striker said. "For their second goal last time we played they got two men forward - one to cross, one to finish."

Dodds' four goals in 10 internationals prompted Brown to hail him as "my No 1 pick" after his winner in Bosnia. He can be excused mixed feelings about Estonia. In the so-called game that never was - his debut - the referee called a halt as soon as he kicked off to John Collins. But he also led Scotland's fightback last autumn with two goals as substitute.

Scotland's only injury doubt concerns David Hopkin, who has a swollen ankle. Whoever dons the jerseys will have the incentive, according to Brown, of the (albeit remote) possibility that the Scots could still qualify automatically for the finals as the runners-up with the best record.

Yet before they can begin to consult their calculators in earnest, they must overcome a side still clinging to hopes of finishing second themselves. An Estonian victory would take the issue into the final round of fixtures next month.

While Scotland's fate remains in their own hands, Brown noted that the pitch was unusually narrow. Not that he fears a dispute like the one which made his last visit so bizarre.

"It's the same floodlights, but hopefully we won't need them with a six o'clock kick-off," he said, adding self-mockingly that someone at the ground had shouted at him yesterday: "Lights bright enough for you, are they?"