Scotland. . .2
THE CHORUS of 'Wembley Here We Come' which rang out from the tartan hordes was perhaps a trifle premature, but Scotland made a positive start to their quest to qualify for the European Championship finals in England when they overcame a mediocre Finnish side here last night.
Scotland, who reached the finals of this competition two years ago on the back of a sequence of early victories, now have a chance to press home their advantage with home fixtures against the Faroe Islands and Russia before the potentially awkward game in Greece a week before Christmas.
It was especially gratifying for Craig Brown, the Scotland manager, to see Duncan Shearer vindicate his judgement by breaching Finland's defence in the 29th minute. Only 24 hours earlier, Brown had claimed that if his wide players could put the ball across the face of goal, the Aberdeen striker would score. Shearer, starting an international for the first time at 32, had one opportunity and duly obliged.
The second goal, which effectively ended the game as a contest midway through the second half, was a stunning first-time strike by John Collins, his fifth in 20 internationals. Finland's collection of students, teachers and insurance salesmen had little left to offer, and they were fortunate to finish with a full complement after a scything tackle from behind on Paul McStay by Erik Holmgren, who had already been cautioned.
While the Finns were quick to deny space to Gary McAllister, they enjoyed less success in shackling Paul McStay during the first half. The Celtic playmaker, more purposeful in a Scotland jersey than for some time, frequently stretched the home defence with his long passes, and it was such an intervention that led to Scotland taking the lead.
Out of a movement of around a dozen crisp passes, McStay contributed three, the best of which found his club-mate Tom Boyd advancing up the left flank. The left-back's deep, hanging cross was meat and drink to Shearer, who braved a clash of heads with Antti Heinola to glance the ball past Petri Jakonen.
Up to that point, Scotland had defended unconvincingly. Ari Hjelm's theatrical dive, after Colin Hendry had won the ball cleanly, gave Litmanen a chance to show his set-piece prowess in only the fourth minute. Justice was served when his free-kick sailed yards over the bar.
Mixu Paatelainen, Shearer's partner at Pittodrie last season, put himself about to useful effect, once flicking on a Heinola centre only for Janne Makela to head too high, though Scotland's worst scare, moments after the opening goal, was self-inflicted. Stewart McKimmie played a back-pass to Andy Goram's left foot - the one he uses mainly for standing on - and the keeper promptly miskicked as a white-shirted forward closed in. The ball rolled straight to Hjelm, but Goram redeemed himself by plunging to his right to save an under-hit drive.
However, Finland's resolve was already weakening, their cause hardly being helped by two enforced substitutions before the interval. Five minutes after it, Goram's feet denied Paatelainen a goal he would have savoured, and the Scots made good their escape in the 66th minute.
Again the provider was a foraging full-back - in this instance McKimmie - and although Janne Lindberg supplied an unwitting assist by heading on rather than out, there was no doubting the power and control of Collins's left-footed volley as it flew past Jakonen.
'We're going to celebrate,' sang the Scottish fans, and no one could doubt that they meant it.
FINLAND (4-4-2): Jakonen (MyPa); Makela (MyPa), Hyrylainen (HJK Helsinki), Kanerva (HJK), Heinola (HJK); Suaminen (TPV Tampere), Litmanen (Ajax, Neth), Lindberg (MyPa), Rantanen (HJK); Hjelm (Ilves, capt), Paatelainen (Bolton). Substitutes: Holmgren (FinnPa) for Heinola, 29; Jarvinen (Waldhof Mannheim) for Rantanen, 41.
SCOTLAND: (4-4-2): Goram (Rangers); McKimmie (Aberdeen), Hendry (Blackburn), Levein (Heart of Midlothian), Boyd (Celtic); McStay (Celtic), McAllister (Leeds), McLaren (Heart of Midlothian), Collins (Celtic); Walker (Celtic), Shearer (Aberdeen). Substitutes: Jess (Aberdeen) for Walker, 65; McCall (Rangers) for Levein, 78.
Referee: R Wojcik (Poland).
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content