Football: Swiss find fault with McCoist

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND'S quest to qualify for a sixth successive World Cup finals does not start until tomorrow, when they open their Group One campaign against Switzerland, but already the phoney war is raging.

The first shots were fired, rather ill-advisedly, by an Englishman, Roy Hodgson, who has succeeded Uli Stielike in charge of the Swiss national side. Comments attributed to Hodgson about Ally McCoist, the Scots' first-choice striker, were like shortbread from heaven to the Scotland coach, Andy Roxburgh.

Hodgson, a 45-year-old Londoner whose own playing career peaked with Crystal Palace reserves, watched the Rangers' striker during the European Championship finals. 'I was impressed by his potential, but not by his performance,' he said. 'When I think back to the chances Scotland had against Germany, then I wonder why McCoist didn't score.'

His captain, Alain Geiger, also joined in the sniping. 'McCoist is not someone we worry about,' the Sion defender said. 'Getting goals in Scotland is one thing - getting them at international level is another.'

Roxburgh returned their fire by recalling that a year ago this week, McCoist scored the late equaliser here which in effect took Scotland, rather than the Swiss, to Sweden. It later transpired that when the hosts came in at half-time, 2-0 up, Stielike devoted his pep talk to extolling the visitors' virtues.

'I'm really amazed at how obliging the Swiss managers have been to us,' Roxburgh said. 'Stielike's words were helpful then and this time I want to thank Roy for motivating one of my players for me. He's been charitable in the extreme.'

McCoist, of all people, needs no motivating. Even in Sweden, where he looked jaded, the effort he put in was exemplary. He has already amassed 12 goals this season and as Roxburgh pointed out, scoring in the Old Firm match is hardly the easiest of tasks.

The player himself said he felt 'quite happy' with a record of 12 goals in 41 internationals, adding pointedly: 'The Swiss should be used to seeing me in various finals because they're usually sitting at home watching.'

Touche. Switzerland have not reached the finals of either major tournament since 1966, and morale took a mauling when Scotland wrenched the Swedish place from their grasp. However, the Hodgson era began in earnest with a 6-0 win in Estonia last month, giving them a head start over Italy, Portugal and Scotland in what will be a fiercely competitive group.

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