Football: Scots aim to make light of Estonia

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The Independent Online
Amid the neon-lit opulence of Monte Carlo, which burns up enough power of an evening to illuminate Tallinn for a week, Scotland will tonight seek to make Estonia pay for the dark farce of October by collecting a further three points towards qualification for next year's World Cup finals.

The same Yugoslav referee and Fifa delegate from Luxembourg who were involved in the country's three-second "match" in the Estonian capital reconvened last night to test the floodlights at Monaco's Louis II Stadium.

To no one's surprise, they won the approval of the rival associations, yet Craig Brown will not be viewing his team's Group Four opponents in a new light.

The Scotland manager sat his squad down yesterday in front of a videotape of Estonia's recent friendly against Terry Yorath's Lebanon side. The Lebanese won 2-0, but the screening, together with the report of his "spy" in Beirut, Frank Coulston, confirmed what Brown knew before the original fixture.

"Estonia are still playing the same system, which is designed purely to frustrate," he said. "It's a rigid formation, with no scope for flexibility. I don't agree with playing that way, but they're very well coached [by Teitur Torfasson, an Icelander]. We'll face similar difficulties to those that a team like Coventry had against Woking in the FA Cup."

In fact, Estonia are unlikely to be as positive as the Vauxhall Conference part-timers, which has prompted Brown to study his options even more closely than usual. He may, for instance, decide he does not need three out-and- out defenders if Estonia are going to deploy a solitary striker. If that is the case, there could be roles for Celtic's Jackie McNamara and Tosh McKinlay as wing-backs.

McKinlay is the best crosser in the Scottish game, so it would seem perverse not to use him, given that Brown has indicated that Duncan Ferguson is to start for the first time in 26 months.

Andy Goram will also return, in place of the unlucky Jim Leighton, though Brown anticipates a far busier evening for Estonia's former Portsmouth goalkeeper, Mart Poom.

"The Estonians are a fit, athletic team, but they can't compete with us in technical ability,'' he said. "That's how we'll win it, not by pumping high balls into the goalmouth, where Poom uses his reach to come for everything.

"We've a midfield that any country would envy, so we need to put the emphasis on quick passing. There could be goals in this match for our midfielders."

The central unit will be reinforced by Paul McStay, who admitted yesterday that he had feared his career might be over when surgery on an ankle injury last summer merely worsened the pain. McStay, who wins his 74th cap, will play alongside his former Celtic partner John Collins for the first time since the latter moved to Monaco.

Collins warned that his club's pitch deteriorates every winter, the result of poor drainage and of being built on the third floor of a leisure complex, with car parks and tennis courts below. He sensed that the French were "not particularly interested" in the game, but added: "The motivation for professional players comes from within, but with 2,000 of our supporters there the atmosphere should still be good."

Victory would set the Scots up nicely for their three vital matches before May Day - at home to Estonia and Austria, and away to Sweden - while anything less might so seeds of doubt that could grow ominously as Monaco's spring temperatures finally reach Scotland.

ESTONIA (probable, 4-1-4-1): Poom (Flora Tallinn); Kirs, Hohlov-Simson (both Flora); Lemsalu (FSV Mainz 05), Olesk (Lelle SK Tallinn); Reim; Oper, M Rooba (all Flora), Arbeiter (Lelle SK), Kristal; Zelinski (both Flora).

SCOTLAND (probable, 3-4-3): Goram (Rangers); Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), McKinlay; McStay (both Celtic), McAllister (Coventry), I Ferguson (Rangers), Collins (Monaco); Gallacher (Blackburn), D Ferguson (Everton), McGinlay (Bolton).