Football: Scots to rely on Shearer

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND do not care, generally speaking, to follow England's lead. Yet when they open their European Championship qualifying campaign, against Finland here tomorrow, Craig Brown will almost certainly entrust the principal striking role to a man named Shearer.

Unlike Terry Venables, who is spoiled for choice as regards forwards, Brown has frankly little option other than to nominate Aberdeen's Duncan Shearer, his namesake's predecessor at Blackburn, to spearhead the attack in the Olympic Stadium.

Since only Mark Hateley outscored the flame-haired Highlander in Scottish football last season, his selection should not be surprising. Few players, however, make their first international start at the age of 32, and although Shearer netted against the Netherlands in one of his two cameos as substitute, he had hardly set the heather alight on the home front until last week.

Then, watched by the national manager, he scored a hat-trick against Partick Thistle, putting behind him disappointments such as being relegated to the bench for his club's Uefa Cup calamity against Latvian opposition. 'He confirmed that night what we'd learned in Holland,' Brown said. 'If you put the ball across the face of the goal, Shearer will put it in.'

Shearer, for his part, observed pointedly that it would be 'nice to stay on the pitch for 90 minutes'. He anticipated good service from the Scotland midfield, though with the exception of Pat Nevin, there is no natural flank player to pander to his strengths.

'Finland's defenders are excellent facing the play, but turn them and they're not so happy,' Brown said. 'The trouble is there are so few wingers in the modern game, as the World Cup confirmed, which means getting midfielders into wide positions to deliver.'

Mike Belfield, a former Wimbledon player now in his 14th year in the Finnish league, expects his adopted country to play a defensive game. 'The Finns know their limitations,' he explained. 'They realise a draw wouldn't be a bad result. A draw wouldn't be disastrous for the Scots either, though if their attitude is right, they can win. They know Scotland can be either brilliant or rubbish, and they're banking on catching them on a bad day.'

Inconsistency remains an enduring, some would say endearing, Scottish trait. With the finals to be held in England, and a less than daunting group completed by Russia, Greece, San Marino and the Faroe Isles, Brown is looking for his team to be a little more predictable in their unpredictability.

Duncan Jupp, the Fulham defender, wins his first cap for Scotland Under-21 against Finland, in Salo, today in their opening European Championship match. The attack will be led by St Mirren's Barry Lavety and Stevie Crawford, of Raith Rovers.

SCOTLAND UNDER-21 (v Finland, European Championship qualifying Group Eight, Salo, today): Kerr (Celtic), Jupp (Fulham), Pressley (Rangers), Dailly (Dundee United), Robertson (Aberdeen); Murray (Rangers), Hannah (Dundee United), Locke (Heart of Midlothian), McCann (Dundee), Donnelly (Celtic), Crawford (Raith Rovers).