Berti: Bring on Italians for openers at Hampden

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The Independent Football

Berti Vogts disclosed that when he heard Scotland's World Cup draw, he turned to his boss, David Taylor, the Scottish FA chief executive, and said: "Book our hotel now!" One hopes something was not lost in the translation and that Vogts meant the accommodation to be somewhere in Germany and not the usual beach property in Majorca that Scotland's footballers have become accustomed to watching tournaments from.

Scotland's national coach was upbeat about his chances of returning home to his native country with his team in 2006, despite being given one of the hardest qualifying groups. Italy will be expected to take Group Five's pole position, leaving Scotland, Norway and Slovenia scrambling for second spot.

All three nations suffered the pain of losing in the Euro 2004 play-offs, which will only heighten their desire to get it right this time. The last time Scotland reached a major finals, the 1998 World Cup, they met Norway in a 1-1 draw in Bordeaux, but since then the Norwegians have uncovered some younger talent, such as John Carew of Roma and John Arne Riise of Liverpool, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United is a perennial threat.

Slovenia reached Euro 2000 and then the World Cup finals in 2002, and would have made it three in a row had Croatia not beaten them to Euro 2004 on away goals last month. Throw in difficult trips to Moldova and Belarus and the group becomes perilous rather than appealing.

"The draw could not be much worse for us," lamented the Scotland defender Christian Dailly. "Italy are obviously going to be favourites. When I looked at the other sections, I realised that this was about as tough as we could have had." The psychological scars of losing to England and Holland in the play-offs for Euro 2000 and 2004 will drive Barry Ferguson's attitude to qualify as one of the best second-placed teams and avoid another play-off. "I don't want to go to the play-offs again," said the Blackburn Rovers midfielder," because we just have bad experiences of those. I want us to look to be one of the best runners-up and get to Germany directly. I think it is a reasonable draw, and getting the Slovenians is a break for us, even though they have a decent pedigree. I believe Italy are beatable at Hampden. It's a good section."

Vogts - as you would expect of someone with a World Cup winner's medal in his other house back in Germany - has no fear. "We missed the last World Cup finals but we have a new team now, and the time is right for them. We have to aim to finish as one of the two best runners-up. We always knew we would get one of the big nations, so it might as well be Italy. But why should we be scared? We beat Holland at Hampden and drew with Germany there. Wales beat Italy in Cardiff in the Euro qualifiers and we must do the same."

For Vogts, the first real result will come before a ball is kicked. He wants the fixture negotiations to provide him with a crack at Giovanni Trapattoni's side in the first game of the group in September. "I'd like them at Hampden after they've just finished with the Euro finals in Portugal - their players might be a little tired." However, in terms of getting the team that no one wanted, that honour fell to the Republic of Ireland, who were paired with France. If Thierry Henry and Co prove unbeatable, they will at least leave the profits of a sell-out night in Dublin in their wake.

"Everyone wanted to avoid them," said the Republic's assistant coach, Chris Hughton. "My heart sank a little, but the prospect of taking on the best side in the world is exciting." Switzerland, a nemesis on the road to Euro 2004, are there again, but the capricious Irish usually sidestep the European finals and save up their beer money for the World Cup party.

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