Football: Scots' hard road to France

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND'S World Cup hopefuls flew into New Jersey yesterday to find Frank Sinatra's home state at a virtual standstill as a nation was transfixed by his funeral. There was no ticker-tape welcome and no clamouring camera crews, which suited Craig Brown's purposes perfectly.

The Scotland manager, a self-confessed fan of Ol' Blue Eyes (although he has a tongue-in-cheek preference for the Caledonian crooner called Sydney Devine, who imitates Sinatra), is hoping for 10 days out of the spotlight as he prepares his squad for France 98.

They will emerge only twice from their training camp at Summit, New Jersey, to play friendly matches against Colombia in the Giants Stadium at nearby East Rutherford on Saturday and the United States in Washington DC a week later.

Brown brought his squad to the US to play the same opponents prior to Euro 96. Both games were lost, but he has learned from the experience.

"On that trip we made an undertaking that everyone would get a game. This time the emphasis will be on the ones we expect to be playing [in France].

"We were massively experimental against the US. Our midfield three were Darren Jackson, Eoin Jess and Scot Gemmill. Then when we played the Colombians we used Gary McAllister, Stuart McCall and John Collins, who were our first-choice players.

"We played very well in that game and missed two great chances which would have given us a 2-0 lead before [Faustino] Asprilla scored the winner."

Scotland have not won any of their three games since qualifying for the finals, though Brown said he was not unduly concerned. "We played well in France and lost to a late penalty, then played poorly against Denmark and Finland when we have a lot of players unavailable. Of course we want to win, but it's not all-important. I've learned that in international matches there's no such thing as a friendly. You're always assessed as if it's a competitive fixture."

Brown acknowledged that Scotland had chosen relatively difficult warm- up opponents, both of whom have qualified for France. The US were "no longer football novices", while he had watched a videotape of Colombia drawing 0-0 with Yugoslavia despite being down to 10 men for an hour. "We could have gone to Europe for our acclimatisation, played Cyprus and Malta and got two wins. But it wouldn't have benefited us."

Scotland have brought two players, John Collins and Andy Goram, who are carrying injuries. Collins, the Monaco midfielder, has a chipped bone in a toe and missed his club's final French League match.

Goram, the Rangers goalkeeper, has a hamstring strain which Brown describes as "a legacy of the Scottish Cup final". His indisposition means that Scotland may give a rare starting appearance to their third-choice keeper, Wimbledon's Neil Sullivan, against Colombia.