Football / World Cup: Brown's note of sympathy: Phil Shaw on the problems facing the Scotland manager

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AS REPORTS of the old enemy's demise in Rotterdam reached Rome's Olympic stadium, many of the 1,200 Scotland supporters burst into song. 'Let's all laugh at England,' they gloated, though Craig Brown was disinclined to see the joke yesterday.

Brown, nursing a sore throat and bruised pride after Scotland's 3-1 defeat by a Roberto Baggio-inspired Italy in the first of two matches under his caretaker managership, maintains that many of the problems which have blighted the English World Cup campaign also exist north of the border.

'I take no satisfaction from their situation - quite the opposite,' Brown said. 'Graham Taylor had the cruellest of luck against the Dutch and I sympathise greatly with him.

'I still hope England get through, with Wales and the Republic, but circumstances are conspiring against us.

'The Italian media were amazed that we play 44 league fixtures a season in Scotland and 42 in England - plus cup games - as against just 34 there. The intensity and frequency of the games gives us no chance of competing at international level.

'In the week that the Italy squad spent together in Florence before Wednesday's game, our Scottish League players had two matches. It was noticeable that the English- based trio, who'd had the Saturday off, looked our fittest players in Rome. Thankfully, we're going over to four divisions of 10 next season.'

Brown's pre-match bravado made a welcome change from the tendency of his predecessor, Andy Roxburgh, to talk up the opposition. While unable to deliver a victory against the odds, his players managed to give Italy and their 60,000 fans a fright after gifting them a 2-0 lead in 16 minutes.

'Their response - in meetings, training, during the match - was exemplary,' Brown said, noting that his captain, Gary McAllister, had flourished against Serie A's finest.

'Gary could slip into Italian football with no problem. Dino Baggio, a very good young player, was there to do a job on him, but he couldn't hold him.'

Yet even McAllister, the power behind an hour-long spell during which Kevin Gallacher scored and Gordon Durie nearly equalised twice, was overshadowed by Roberto Baggio.

Brown, though annoyed by the challenge which left Bryan Gunn requiring stitches in a head wound, admitted he had been in the presence of genius.

'Baggio is the best player in the world right now,' he purred. 'I've seen him four times recently and he has been superb, a striker and playmaker rolled into one. Alan McLaren marked him well, but he still set up all three goals. The weighting of his passes, especially for the killer third, was magnificent.'

Brown backs Italy to prevail over Portugal next month for the right to go to the United States. 'They're the better side. Baresi and Donadoni are still class acts, while the new full-back, Benarrivo, is a real find. With Signori and Maldini back, they could go on to win the tournament if they win in Milan.'

Scotland sign off in the more mundane setting of Malta, but with the incentive of knowing that a performance of comparable quality would surely secure 'permanent' status for Brown.