Football: Scots sensing success

Click to follow
The Independent Online
EVERYONE'S pet underdogs in the European Championship finals, Scotland will tonight find themselves in the unfamiliar and potentially problematic position of favourites in their opening World Cup qualifying match against Switzerland in the Wankdorf stadium here.

The attacking enterprise displayed by Andy Roxburgh's side in Sweden, while not always reflected in results, has raised expectations at home and credibility abroad. So much so that Roy Hodgson, Switzerland's English coach, said yesterday that he expected Scotland and Italy to proceed from Group One to the finals in the United States two years hence.

In normal circumstances one would have smelled a rat. However, the Scots dealt such a blow to Swiss morale by taking the place in Sweden upon which they had set their sights that Hodgson has been busy 'talking up' his own team's qualities rather than massaging Scottish egos in the cause of kidology.

The buoyant nationalism Scotland encountered here last September has given way to apathy. Only 10,000 spectators are expected in a ground where 44,000 witnessed a 2-2 draw that night, and the Swiss FA have slashed ticket prices by a third in an attempt to woo waverers away from the live television coverage.

Despite Switzerland's 6-0 stroll in Estonia in their opening match, Hodgson bristled at the word 'confident' when asked if it described his mood. 'Enthusiastic' would be nearer the mark, he said as Bobby Robson's former goalkeeping coach, Mike Kelly, worked the Swiss keepers in steady drizzle.

Roxburgh, perhaps recalling the calamity that was Costa Rica, was in the unaccustomed position of having to counsel against over- confidence. 'Our expectations should be high,' he said, 'though they mustn't be unrealistic. It's going to be tough, but we'll be very upset not to get a point.'

The line-up that defeated the CIS 3-0 in June - which, apart from Maurice Malpas and Gordon Durie reclaiming their places after injury, is the one Roxburgh will start with - should be good enough to earn at least that. Indeed the captain, Richard Gough, said he sensed 'an expectation that we can win quite comfortably'.

Tempting fate, maybe, and in the next breath Gough was warning about 'getting carried away', though entirely plausible provided Scotland's midfield can pick up where they so stylishly left off. Of that quartet, only Stuart McCall began last year's meeting (which Gough also missed), in which goals by Durie and Ally McCoist shattered Switzerland after they had led 2-0.

The main threat to Scotland, apart from their time-honoured ability to self-destruct when least expected to, will come from Stephane Chapuisat and Adrian Knup, two highly mobile strikers who have been rare Swiss successes in the hostile environs of the German Bundesliga.

With nine games to follow, including the next three in Glasgow, defeat for Scotland would no more be a disaster than victories in Sweden and Norway at the outset of their last two qualifying campaigns guaranteed a smooth passage to the finals. But reading between the lines yesterday, it was Hodgson who seemed more prepared for the worst.

'One or two poor results,' he told the assembled scribes, 'and all of a sudden your reports are edged in black.'

SWITZERLAND (probable): Pascalo (Servette); Hottiger (Sion), Quentin (Sion), Geiger (Sion, capt), Egli (Servette), Ohrel (Servette), Bregy (Young Boys Berne), Sforza (Grasshoppers Zurich), A Sutter (Grasshoppers), Chapuisat (Borussia Dortmund), Knup (VfB Stuttgart).

SCOTLAND (probable): Goram (Rangers); Malpas (Dundee United), Gough (Rangers, capt), McPherson (Rangers), Boyd (Celtic), McAllister (Leeds), McStay (Celtic), McCall (Rangers), McClair (Manchester United), McCoist (Rangers), Durie (Tottenham).