Berti sticking to his young guns

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The Independent Online

The result echoed around Europe last Wednesday night, but not in the way Berti Vogts had hoped for. Holland's 6-0 crushing of Scotland in the second leg of the Euro 2004 play-off caught the eyes of every newspaper on the continent. While L'Equipe saluted the "Euphoric Oranges" and German tabloid Bild put the boot into their own compatriot with "Berti's boys all bagpiped out", it was left to a Swiss newspaper to capture the mood most succinctly with "Orange artists tear the Bravehearts apart".

The dramatic swing in Scotland's fortunes after their rousing 1-0 win at Hampden Park had tempted fans to dream of Portugal next summer was cruel. But it was also expected. Vogts' team had managed in Glasgow to become the first side in 20 games to stop the Dutch from scoring, and paid for it dearly as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Co cut loose in Amsterdam.

It was the worst Scottish defeat in 42 years, but Vogts is not likely to throw away all the good work of the last six months on one lousy day at the office. "We all have bad nights in international football - Holland had theirs at Hampden and Amsterdam is ours," said the Scotland manager. "The only direction we can go from here is forward."

As someone who witnessed the 5-0 thrashing inflicted by England at Hampden in 1973, there was a horrible feeling of déjà vu as the the goals flew past Robert Douglas last Wednesday. However, if Vogts looks at that history lesson he can take solace.

The defeat by England 30 years ago was the first game in charge for Willie Ormond, who had taken over after Tommy Docherty left to join Manchester United. Ormond remained loyal to his predecessors' selection and suffered. He quickly gutted the team, and veterans such as George Graham never played for their country again.

Vogts has already filleted his Scottish selection. It has been an ongoing process since that 5-0 defeat by France on his baptism 18 months ago. "Paris was much worse than this," he insisted. What he is suffering from, however, is the legacy he inherited from Craig Brown, whose fine record at reaching Euro 96 and France 98 was at the expense of ignoring the ageing process.

The average age at Euro 96 was 31, and not much different by the time the side got to the World Cup finals. However, it meant that young players never got a look-in. Neil McCann was 24 before he made his debut in 1999 and was winning only his 20th cap in Amsterdam - yet he is regarded as one of Vogts' most experienced players.

Seven of the Scotland side were 25 or under, but the older men around them - Steven Pressley, Robert Douglas, Jackie McNamara and Paul Dickov - all had fewer than 20 caps. That is set to change, as Vogts embarks on a series of six friendlies - starting with Italy in February - that will build towards the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Gary Naysmith symbolises the type of player Vogts is looking to develop over the next few seasons. The Everton full-back made his international debut at 20, while with Hearts, and has passed the 20-cap mark before the age of 24. He is convinced that James McFadden, 20, and Darren Fletcher, a teenager, will easily surpass that total.

"Darren is only 19, but he did well over the two games with Holland," reflected Naysmith. "He and James were probably our best players. James kept trying to make something happen in Holland, he never went into his shell. Those are the sort of players that we should be looking to build the team around. Berti has a settled squad now. Our oldest players are Steven Pressley and Christian Dailly, who have just turned 30, so they have probably got the World Cup and the next European Championship together.

"Losing 6-0 is hard to talk about. We simply have to take it on the chin. However, we won last Saturday against Holland as a team and we lose as one, too. If you look at our last five games at Hampden, we took 13 points out of 15 from a list that included Germany and Holland. We just need to get ourselves together, forget Amsterdam and focus on the World Cup."

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