Football: Scots seek a surprise opening

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The Independent Online
CRAIG BROWN was in jocular, almost bullish mood last night as Scotland steeled themselves to launch the greatest show on earth against the might of Brazil in the Stade de France today. Yes, he admitted, Scotland have booked a flight home at the end of the first round, beyond which they have never progressed in the World Cup or any championship. Then came the punch line. Beaming defiantly, Brown said that they have also reserved flights for the day after both the semi-finals and the final.

Even the wildest dreamers among the Tartan Army do not expect to be back at St Denis on 12 July. After all, Scotland have won only four games in six finals. But the fact that they have made contingency plans for every outcome is testimony to the meticulous organisation with which they hope to frustrate the holders.

A few hundred feet from where Brown spoke, the Brazilians were going through their paces, with only a few hundred photographers occupying the vast arena that will throb with 80,000 voices today. The repertoire was awesome: overhead kicks; viciously swerving free-kicks; audacious flicks and dummies.

Yet the Scotland manager is confident that his team will neither be overawed nor be outwitted tactically. After appearing to settle on his starting line-up on the mini-tour of the United States, Brown is now ready to surprise the world champions by throwing Darren Jackson into the fray at the expense of Gordon Durie.

Jackson, whose career was threatened by brain surgery in August, failed to command a regular place during Celtic's championship season. The lack of activity may now work in his favour. Brown described him as "electric" in training and may use him just behind a lone striker, Kevin Gallacher, to prevent Brazil building from the back.

Although this would mean a variation on his tried and trusted 3-5-2 formation, Scotland clearly hope to take Brazil unawares. Their coach, Mario Zagallo, has reportedly dismissed them as a typically British long-ball team. If that is the case - and Brown believes Zagallo must have been misquoted - then complacency and ignorance may yet undermine Brazil.

Their captain, Dunga, underlined the impression that Zagallo has mistaken Scotland for the Republic of Ireland, saying: "We intend to dictate play from the start and beat them at their own very physical game."

For the benefit of the Brazilian media, Brown pointed out that his squad contained a European Cup winner, Paul Lambert, and players with champions' medals from Scotland, England, Germany and France. "So we've got a lot of winners in the team, but not in the World Cup," he said, adding with another impish smile: "Not yet."

Brown anticipates that they will respond to the atmosphere with "calm assurance, not fear", dismissing suggestions that they might play defensively as "a recipe for disaster". Experience has taught him that in every game, whatever the opposition, a team is liable to enjoy five or 10 minutes' ascendancy. When Scotland's time comes, Brown argued, they must be ready to gamble, to throw an extra man forward; in which case Jackson may have a dual responsibility.

If the Brazilians are not quaking in the expensively sponsored Nikes at the thought of Jackson- or even Gallacher, whose whippet-like speed offers Brown his best hope of scoring - neither are the Scots daunted by the thought of facing Ronaldo. They have worked hard to avoid being caught one-on-one against the pace of the 21-year-old prodigy, but the first priority will be to stifle his supply.

Scotland are also heartened by the history of the opening fixture, which, Brown noted, "often throws up a surprise". A Scottish victory would arguably be the greatest upset in the tournament's six decades. It would certainly rank alongside the 1-0 triumphs by the United States over England in 1950 and North Korea against Italy in 1966.

The past eight opening games, stretching back 32 years to a barren start by Alf Ramsey's England against Uruguay, have delivered a total of five goals. Four consecutive starters ended goalless until 1982, when Belgium's 1-0 success meant Argentina became the first champions to open with a defeat since Italy in 1950.

Four years later, a Bulgarian team every bit as unfancied as Scotland came from behind to hold Italy 1-1. Their performance was notable for the heroics of Boris Mikhailov, who, coincidentally, followed Jim Leighton into Reading's goal. Leighton, 40 next month, wins his 87th cap today against the country whose victory in Turin eight years ago seemed have ended his international career. The start of that tournament produced another surprise to fuel Scottish fantasies, Cameroon over- coming Argentina, Diego Maradona et al, despite having two players sent off. Four years ago, Germany became the first holders in six finals to begin their defence positively. However, their victory over Bolivia, again by a single goal, offers further evidence to suggest that there will be no slaughter at St Denis.

Scholes gives England victory, page 29