Football: 'Stop Hadji and you stop Morocco'

Derrick Whyte hears Roberto Carlos tip the Africans to win the Group A decider
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AFRICA'S footballing nations may not be quite ready yet to deliver Pele's promise of a World Cup win before the new millennium, but that should not lull Scotland's supporters into any false sense of security. As they plan their journey to St Etienne for Tuesday's Group A confrontation with Morocco, the tartan army would be wise to heed the words of another great Brazilian player - one who has experienced already 90 minutes of World Cup action against the two teams striving to reach the second round.

Roberto Carlos, the Real Madrid left-back whose swerving and powerful free-kicks defy belief, believes it will be the north Africans, not the Scots, who will win the decisive encounter. According to him, Scotland lack the high-class technical game and the pace to win, though he conceded that their never-say-die spirit and solid teamwork could turn it into a tight contest.

"Scotland are a very strong team, very organised and difficult to beat," Roberto Carlos said. "But they do not have the movement and the technical play of Morocco. The Moroccans gave us more problems in our second game in Nantes, even though we beat them more easily. We played much better. We showed much more of the real Brazil. But I saw more in Morocco to worry us than we faced against Scotland.

"I think Morocco are a more technical and much faster team. I think they will win. In their best moments, they are a very good team and play some dangerous football. Remember how much trouble they caused to Norway, too? This will be a difficult match for Scotland."

The results in Group A show that only Brazil, the runaway winners of the section, are a class apart. Having won 2-1 against the Scots in Paris on 10 June, without moving out of second gear, and then 3-0 over a disjointed and overawed Morocco in Nantes on Tuesday, Brazil appear to be running into form with perfect timing, as Morocco's French coach Henri Michel acknowledged.

"We have to be realistic," he said. "Brazil were a far better team than us and the result proved that. They played a lot better than they did against Scotland and they know how to move through a tournament like this.

"But we made a catastrophic start by conceding such an early goal to Ronaldo and by losing our concentration. Our marking was poor. We gave them too much respect, but I don't think that will happen against Scotland."

For those who were impressed by Morocco and, in particular, their pig- tailed red-booted midfielder Moustafa Hadji, in their opening 2-2 draw with Norway, Morocco were a disappointment in Nantes. The confidence and flair of Montpellier was reproduced only in flashes and Hadji, despite an energetic contribution, this time found only blind alleys where laser- like slaloms into space had previously existed.

But that said as much about the excellence of Aldair and Junior Baiano in Brazil's defence as Morocco's sense of inferiority on the night, as Craig Brown is certain to have noted. "We didn't play well, not as well as we did against Norway," Hadji said. "But we will have our fighting spirit back to play against Scotland. Brazil are the team we take as our example. They are the ultimate team, the masters. And we admired them too much. So, when we played them, we were playing against our own favourites. It will not be like that against Scotland. We have to beat them and we know it."

But as Brazil showed on Tuesday, stop Hadji and you stop Morocco. Playing in a free role behind the two main strikers, he has the licence to roam and prompt and appears on both flanks as well as running from deep to make room for others. "He is a great player," Roberto Carlos said. "He could play for Brazil. Morocco need him to play well and in a disciplined way against Scotland.

"He has the ability to run, turn and open defences. He can conjure up goals. He can win matches. I don't think Scotland have a player like that. Scotland have to defend and play on the counter-attack. But against Morocco, I think you need to dominate and score goals. It will be an interesting game, but for me Morocco will win."

Scotland v Norway: The tartan turning points

61 minutes: David Weir comes on to replace Colin Calderwood, who had broken his hand. The Hearts sweeper goes to the right side of a three- man defence which has only Tore Andre Flo to mark, thus allowing Weir the freedom to move foward with the ball, as he does so well for his club. Weir tests the water with several runs and probing passes, before, in the 67th minute, he moves down the inside-right channel and plays a delicate pass over the top of the Norwegian defence to find Craig Burley's run in behind his markers. Burley meets the ball with a perfect lob over Norway's goal-keeper Frode Grodas to score the goal which keeps Scotland's World Cup hopes flickering.

63 minutes: Jackie McNamara replaces his Celtic colleague, Darren Jackson, and takes over the right wing-back role from Burley, another clubmate. Burley and McNamara, Scotland's Player of the Year and PFA Player of the year respectively, have developed an instinctive understanding. They combine well as a unit, but they also shine as individuals. McNamara gets beyond the defence better than Burley had done in a role he is clearly uncomfortable in, while in turn Burley relishes his preferred option down the middle, and opens the Norwegian defence with a series of forceful runs. Whether by design or accident, Craig Brown now seems to have found a midfield system that suits his players' needs.