Football: Scotland walk tall in land of the Giants

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The Independent Online
Colombia 2 Scotland 2

COLOMBIA are not Brazil, Faustino Asprilla is no Ronaldo and the pressures of a friendly in the concrete monster that is the Giants Stadium cannot compare with launching the World Cup finals beneath the stylish curves of the Stade de France.

For all that, Scotland were entitled to a sense of renewed optimism after Saturday's "rehearsal" for their meeting with the planet's premier team on 10 June. Having fallen behind to an early penalty by Carlos Valderrama, they looked set for a deserved and overdue victory when John Collins and Craig Burley struck magnificent goals.

The Scots' grip on the game was loosened only in the final 15 minutes, after their momentum had been disrupted by a spate of enforced substitutions. Freddy Rincon equalised for Colombia, but the moral victory, on a night when the stands were a sea of yellow, red and blue interspersed by only the odd splash of tartan, belonged to Craig Brown's side.

Brown, who might have been expected to bang the drum for Scotland after a game in which his players silenced the ones pounding out South American rhythms, knew that Colombia had been there for the taking. "We had the chance to finish them off," he said, "but we didn't take it."

When the Scotland manager bemoaned the "soft goals" his team allowed Colombia, it was mot merely a case of sour grapes. One was the kind normally conceded in park football, the other the consequence of failing to observe the elementary rule of playing to the whistle. Better by far, though, to work such deficiencies out of their system now rather than in France.

Colombia sported the same colour combination Brazil will wear at St-Denis, yet in most other respects presented a pale imitation of the world champions. They are an ageing, pedestrian team, largely unchanged since the disastrous campaign at USA 94. Even in the atmosphere of a "home" match, they could not build on the lead gifted by Christian Dailly.

Scotland had actually cleared an attack when Dailly, chasing the ball out of the penalty area, barged over Wilmer Cabrera as he also ran away from goal. Valderrama beat Neil Sullivan from the spot, but the setback could not prevent the Scots from cementing their growing authority by levelling almost immediately and going ahead nine minutes later.

A lay-off by Darren Jackson found Collins lurking within the "D" before thrashing the ball high into Miguel Calero's net. It was the Monaco midfielder's 10th goal for his country, all the sweeter for having come from his seldom- used right foot.

Jackson also provided an assist, to use the American vernacular, when Burley put Scotland in front with his first international goal. Struck from a difficult angle and helped in by weak goalkeeping at Colombia's near post, it also involved the use of the "wrong" foot, in this case the Celtic player's left.

With hindsight, misses by Burley and Gordon Durie before half-time were critical. On a more positive note, the opportunities stemmed from some crisp passing in midfield, where Paul Lambert demonstrated technique comparable with Valderrama's but a greater range. There was an impressive discipline about the Scots, contrasting sharply with Colombia's off-the-cuff approach, while Colin Hendry was an inspirational captain at the back.

Their ascendancy was such that Sullivan had only one real chance to show his worth, spreading himself well to block Cabrera's close-range shot. The 36-year-old Valderrama, whose hair is his only outstanding feature nowadays, looked a portly shadow of his old self, but as Scotland began to fade he sent Asprilla racing clear.

The former Newcastle striker, who lurched between languid and electric, may or may not have been offside. Either way, Hendry and his cohorts for once lost concentration and were looking for a linesman's flag as Asprilla shot. The ball hit one post and rolled along the line before rebounding off the other for Rincon to pounce.

Brown, denied a first win in four games since Scotland qualified for the finals, said: "We showed great composure and had control for 60 minutes. But you've got to do it for 90 minutes, even with substitutions.

"I have to confess that we've been training them quite hard so the legs were beginning to go towards the end. But hopefully this will stand us in good stead and we'll be at peak condition for Brazil. If we've got aspirations in the World Cup, we've got to come to a hostile environment before 50,000 opposing fans and win matches."

Scotland's mini-tour takes them next to the Robert F Kennedy Stadium in Washington to face the United States, a side Brown described as "arguably stronger" than Colombia. Despite their frustrations in the land of the Giants, they are building nicely towards their gargantuan task.

Goals: Valderrama pen (22) 1-0; Collins (24) 1-1; Burley (33) 1-2; Rincon (78) 2-2.

COLOMBIA (1-3-4-2): Calero (Atletico Nacional); Bermudez (Boca Juniors); Cabrera (Independiente Medellin), I Cordoba (San Lorenzo), Santa (Atletico Nacional); Rincon (Corinthians), Lozano (Real Valladolid), Valderrama (Miami Fusion), Serna (Atletico Nacional); Asprilla (Parma), Valencia (Atletico Junior).

SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Sullivan (Wimbledon); Calderwood (Tottenham Hotspur), Hendry (Blackburn Rovers), Boyd (Celtic); McNamara, Burley, Lambert (all Celtic), Collins (Monaco), Dailly (Derby County); Jackson (Celtic), Durie (Rangers). Substitutes: Booth (Borussia Dortmund) for Durie, h/t; Donnelly (Celtic) for Durie, 61; B McKinlay (Blackburn Rovers) for McNamara, 72.

Referee: B Hall (United States). Booking: Colombia: Lozano.

Attendance: 56,404 (dual admission for Major League Soccer fixture between New York/New Jersey MetroStars and Miami Fusion).

Man of the match: Lambert.