Football: Scotland's brave face on defeat

Brown considers a change of personnel after draw between Group A opponents tempers loss to Brazil. By Phil Shaw
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The Independent Online
AFTER ALL the razzmatazz surrounding their reverse against Brazil, Scotland were back at their rural retreat near Avignon yesterday. The area is renowned as the birthplace of Nostradamus, but Craig Brown was reluctant to adopt the mantle of a seer in Provence by predicting the outcome of Group A.

There was, the Scotland manager surmised in the aftermath of their 2- 1 defeat by the world champions and the 2-2 draw between Morocco and Norway, everything to play for. While some critics had exaggerated the significance of the opening match, Brown always had the bigger picture in mind.

"We don't need to refocus after the Brazil game," he said. "All the emphasis has always been on qualifying [for the second phase] rather than on a single match. Just as beating them wouldn't have guaranteed that, so losing doesn't affect our approach either. We were always looking to win the other games.

"Because of that, there's no damage to morale. I was also encouraged by the defensive frailty which Morocco and Norway showed."

The Norwegians, heavily dependent on English-based players, are the Scots' next opponents on Tuesday in Bordeaux. When they were racking up big victories in the warm-up games, Brown was dubious as to whether they would be able to maintain their high-intensity style in the finals, and he was at least partially vindicated by the Moroccans.

Brown said: "Norway have a distinctive style and we have to adapt to that, even though the Moroccan goalkeeper was kind to them. It's a match that will require tactics and perhaps different personnel. A top country like Brazil don't need to change their way of playing from one game to another, whereas we have to occasionally.

"Morocco played them at their own game at times with the long ball. Maybe we'll have to be more direct, too."

Since there is no obvious target man in the Duncan Ferguson mould, any changes are likely to centre around giving the side a more combative core. Billy McKinlay, a late substitute against Brazil, would be a suitable candidate.

It is a game Scotland dare not lose, given the likelihood of a Brazil victory over Morocco. "We don't want a situation where Brazil can take their foot off the pedal in their last game [against Norway]," Brown added. "We need to win to keep up the pressure."

But for the own-goal misfortune that befell Tom Boyd at St Denis, Scotland might have been sitting pretty. Back home, the particularly unsuccessful Cowdenbeath rejoice in the ironic nickname of the Blue Brazil and it was to the immense credit of Brown's team - and his tactics - that there was a spell in the second half when the World Cup holders were made to resemble the Yellow Cowdenbeath.

It could not last, but there was an almost tangible mood of satisfaction in the Scottish camp yesterday about the way they had acquitted themselves. The feeling extended to the 5,000-strong Tartan Army, some of whom were still milling around outside the stadium in driving rain three hours after the final whistle.

Inside the ground bricklayers from Brechin and asphalters from Airdrie got to shake their beer bellies at scantily clad Brazilian beauties as they danced to the drum. But they also surprised French spectators by joining in lustily on La Marseillaise. And, proving that the art of improvising new football songs is not dead, the Scottish stand rocked in celebration of David Neary's superlative strike against Brazil 16 years ago.

"Alouette, Neary burst the netta," they chorused. The words will have to be updated in honour of the John Collins penalty which gave Scotland such hope, yet in the meantime they must uncover similar reserves of wit and invention in order to advance ahead of Norway and Morocco.

Brazil, meanwhile, still have work to do before they can live up to the legend on their national flag: "Order and progress." There was more than one misunderstanding between the goalkeeper, Taffarel, and his defenders.

Moreover, the manner in which they had to concede the midfield to Collins and Paul Lambert for 20 minutes after half-time made nonsense of yesterday's headline in L'Equipe: "Dunga controle tout".

Worryingly for Mario Zagallo, Bebeto was an ineffectual foil for Ronaldo in attack. There were still moments when the latter played as if re-enacting his "airport" advert, but the Scots were largely able to crowd him out. Pele described Ronaldo as "Brazil's Beethoven". Zagallo's concern must now be to find a second fiddle who can stay in tune with the maestro.