Beleaguered Vogts pleads for Hampden roar to lift Scotland

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The Independent Online

Five days that launch Berti Vogts and Scotland on the road to Germany 2006? Or the period in which the manager finally exhausts the patience of his masters? Either way, Vogts sends his team into the first part of a World Cup double-header, against Norway at Hampden Park today, in bullish mood.

As he thumped a fist on the tea-room table at Dumbarton yesterday and promised that Scotland would "fight with passion and commitment", it seemed plausible that Vogts, after two and a half years of largely disappointing results and criticism, might simply have become demob-happy.

He knows there are dark mutterings about his viability, in the media and the Scottish FA, and it may just be that he no longer cares. Did he feel he needed a minimum of four points from Norway and the match in Moldova next Wednesday to relieve the pressure? "Maybe we'll take all six," Vogts replied sharply.

The heat is always on for coaches, he argued. Even Martin O'Neill was under pressure at Celtic, which was "crazy and unfair". This was a red herring, or at least a green one, as it implied an equivalence between club and international football, and between the circumstances under which O'Neill and Vogts work.

In the one area where their jobs are comparable, the task of marshalling relatively limited resources, the Northern Irishman has proved the more astute. However, with several key players unavailable to Scotland today, Vogts may never have a better opportunity to demonstrate his organisational ability.

Refreshingly, he did not dwell on the absence of Christian Dailly, Malky Mackay, Jackie McNamara, Steven Pressley and Nigel Quashie. "It's not an excuse to be missing players," he said. "It makes the ones who are here, even more determined to win. They will fight with passion and commitment, and we'll have 50,000 Scots behind us, as we did when we beat the Netherlands and drew with Germany."

In fact, Norway will have the backing of 6,000 of the 52,000 sell-out crowd. But Vogts is justified in looking back to those Euro 2004 qualifying fixtures as an example of how Scotland, 68th in Fifa's world rankings, are capable of exploiting a partisan atmosphere to bridge the gap in quality in competitive encounters with their supposed superiors.

The Norwegians are in that category, being 31 rungs higher in the world ruling body's list, even though they lack a Ballack or a Van Nistelrooy and have long-term casualties themselves in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Eirik Bakke.

The stalemate against Slovenia in Glasgow underlined the problem Scotland face in creating chances at Hampden, where the Tartan Army exort them to pour forward. In the abandoned friendly in Spain, six days earlier, the openings came more easily. "Spain played very openly whereas Slovenia effectively had seven defenders," explained Vogts. "Norway will get eight behind the ball and they'll be looking to counter-attack. Moldova, even at home, will pull 10 into defence."

Having been attacked for confusing tactics, not to mention for playing people out of position, Vogts has worked hard on the shape of his side. Gary Holt is likely to replace the injured McNamara in the midfield holding role, allowing Barry Ferguson to use his playmaking ability further up the pitch.

In goal, Craig Gordon's shakiness against Slovenia could mean a recall for 19-year-old David Marshall. Of the four orthodox strikers, Paul Dickov's work-rate possibly gives him the edge, although James McFadden or Darren Fletcher may offer the best hope of Scottish goals.

The injury plague among the centre-backs is untimely. In Roma's John Carew, Norway have a 6ft 7in target man off whom Steffen Iversen, once of Tottenham and Wolves, will try to feed. Russell Anderson, solidity personified in Aberdeen's revival, is poised to share the tall order of stifling them with Andy Webster.

Scotland (4-1-3-2; probable): Marshall (Celtic); G Caldwell (Hibernian), Anderson (Aberdeen), Webster (Hearts), Naysmith (Everton); Holt (Norwich); Fletcher (Manchester United), Ferguson (Blackburn), McFadden (Everton); Dickov (Blackburn), Thompson (Rangers).

Norway (4-4-2; probable): Myhre; Hoiland, Riseth, Lundekvam, Riise; Sorensen, Solli, Larsen, Hoseth; Iversen, Carew.

Referee: P Allaerts (Belgium).

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