Football / World Cup: Nevin brace keeps slim hopes alive: Scotland allow Estonia their first World Cup goal for 55 years

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A SCOTLAND side sprinkled with understudies maintained their mathematical chance of reaching next year's finals with a workmanlike victory over a game but gullible Estonia at Pittodrie last night.

Pat Nevin, with one consummate goal plus a late penalty, and Brian McClair, who made the breakthrough, each doubled their tally for the national team. However, the biggest cheer on a granite-grey evening came with the announcement of England's ignominy in Oslo.

There was also a measure of embarrassment for Scotland, albeit on a smaller scale. Sergei Bragin's goal, which pegged their advantage back to 2-1 in the second half, not only opened the newly independent state's Group One account at the sixth attempt, but was also Estonia's first in the World Cup since they lost 4-1 to the Fuhrer's Germany in 1937.

When the Scots reassemble in September for the visit of Switzerland, the squad will surely include a stronger representation from Rangers. Andy Roxburgh's disaffected captain, Richard Gough, is unlikely to be among them after his tabloid tantrum, but while neither Brian Irvine nor Colin Hendry quite looked the part in his central defensive position, other fringe players made the most of their chance.

Nevin was a model of industry and invention in an unfamiliar role as a central striker, while John Collins gave the most accomplished and creative performance of an international career which has brought only 14 caps in five years. The pair were instrumental in setting up the 19th-minute opener for McClair, only his second goal in 30 internationals. After a slick exchange down the left flank, Nevin crossed low to the edge of the six-yard area, whereupon McClair stabbed home.

Scotland doubled their lead nine minutes later. Collins swept past three attempted tackles before slipping a short pass to Nevin 14 yards out. His deft chip sailed over the 6ft 2in Mart Poom and under the crossbar.

At this stage, Scotland looked capable of nullifying the damage to their goal difference inflicted by their 5-0 rout in Portugal. There was poise and purpose to their play, but at the end of a long, attritional season they could not sustain it. The visitors had put the ball into the net as early as the 11th minute, prompting one Estonian supporter to run on in premature celebration just as the referee was indicating that the 'scorer', Lembit Rajala, had handled. But in the 57th minute, substitute Bragin beat Bryan Gunn with a 30-yard drive and was promptly buried beneath ecstatic team-mates.

For a while, Scottish unease on the pitch was mirrored by restiveness in the stands, but a clumsy push by Marko Kristal on Nevin allowed the Tranmere 'winger' to restore the two- goal margin.

SCOTLAND: Gunn (Norwich City); McLaren (Heart of Midlothian), Boyd, McStay (both Celtic), Hendry (Blackburn Rovers), Irvine (Aberdeen), Gallacher (Blackburn Rovers), I Ferguson (Rangers), McClair (Manchester United), Collins (Celtic), Nevin (Tranmere Rovers). Substitutes: Booth (Aberdeen) for Ferguson, 55; McKimmie (Aberdeen) for McLaren, 71.

ESTONIA: Poom; R Kallaste, Lemsalu, Prins (all Flora Tallinn), Kaljend (Lohjan Pallo), T Kallaste (Flora Tallinn), Borissov (Norma Tallinn), Kristal, Reim, Olumets, Rajala (all Flora Tallinn). Substitute: Bragin (Norma Tallinn) for Lemsalu, h/t.

Referee: A Ouzounov (Bulgaria).

----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP ONE STANDINGS ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Switzerland . . . . . . . 7 5 2 0 18 4 12 Italy . . . . . . . . . . 7 4 2 1 15 6 10 Scotland . . . . . . . . .7 3 2 2 10 9 8 Portugal . . . . . . . . .5 2 2 1 8 4 6 Malta . . . . . . . . . . 8 1 1 6 3 17 3 Estonia . . . . . . . . . 6 0 1 5 1 15 1 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Remaining fixtures: 19 June: Portugal v Malta. 5 Sept: Estonia v Portugal. 8 Sept: Scotland v Switzerland. 22 Sept: Estonia v Italy. 13 Oct: Portugal v Switzerland, Italy v Scotland. 10 Nov: Portugal v Estonia. 17 Nov: Italy v Portugal, Malta v Scotland, Switzerland v Estonia.

Russia qualified for the World Cup finals when Sergei Kiriakov's equaliser earned them a 1-1 draw against Iceland in Reykjavik. Greece have also qualified from Group Five.

In Group Four, Peter Dubovsky scored a hat-trick for the Representation of Czechs and Slovaks in a 5-2 win over Romania in Kosice, Slovakia. His second and third goals, in the closing stages, came when his side were down to nine men, after red cards had been shown to Jiri Nemec and Petr Vrabec.

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