Canny McCann has the answer

World Cup 2002: Scotland cash in on a late Latvian lapse as Brown's men celebrate opening victory
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Scotland launched their campaign to reach the World Cup finals for the seventh time in eight attempts with a precious victory here last night, Neil McCann's first goal for his country stunning Latvia with barely 90 seconds ofnormal time remaining .

Scotland launched their campaign to reach the World Cup finals for the seventh time in eight attempts with a precious victory here last night, Neil McCann's first goal for his country stunning Latvia with barely 90 seconds ofnormal time remaining .

The Rangers winger struck from point-blank range after Don Hutchison's shot, at the end of a driving run through the inside-right channel, was deflected by a defender. Until then, it looked certain that Scotland would have to win in Croatia as well as San Marino next month to achieve the demanding target set by their manager, Craig Brown, of seven points from the opening three fixtures.

A late success against a side rated 60 places below them in Fifa's world rankings may not be a result to reverberate around Europe, though nor will Belgium or Croatia relish a trip to Riga in Group Six.

The large Scottish following, many of whom had passed a hot afternoon refuelling in the Barcelona Bar opposite the newly built stadium, received a shock before a ball was kicked. Brown's deployment of Matt Elliott at centreforward rather than in his usual defensive role may, however, have been a greater surprise for Latvia's English coach, Gary Johnson.

As the former Watford youth director's Premiership knowledge would have told him, Martin O'Neill used to push Elliott up front when Leicester needed a goal. The "gentleman skinhead", as Brown calls him, actually started as a striker at times, 11 goals making him the club's second-top scorer last season. Yet asking him to repeat the feat at international level still represented a big gamble.

Brown took another, less obvious, risk by recalling Tom Boyd for his 66th cap after a 15-month absence, during which time the 34-year-old Celtic defender was sidelined by a serious back injury. If Elliott's job was to unsettle Latvia's reputedly square and sluggish defence, Boyd's was to contain the surges of Andrei Rubins on the left flank.

Rubins has been watched by Arsenal as a possible replacement for Marc Overmars. One of the backs policing Elliott was Igor Stepanovs, another player reportedly coveted by Arsÿne Wenger, although the early running was made at the opposite end, where South-ampton's Marian Pahars and Spartak Moscow's AndreiStolcers formed a fearsomely mobile duo.

Their every flick and thrust brought an excitable crowd to its feet, at the same time appearing to disconcert Scotland's defence. Colin Hendry alarmed Neil Sullivan with a pass-back which the goalkeeper miscontrolled at the expense of a corner, while Boyd almost lobbed Sullivan with a clearance under pressure.

But Latvia found it hard to translate territorial advantage into scoring opportunities, whereas Scotland, from less possession, induced panic in the home defence from set-pieces. One corner by McCann, half-cleared, offered Elliott a half-volley which thudded into Aleksandr Kolinko's grasp. Another found the keeper flapping as Olegs Blagonadezdins sliced the ball a yard past his own goal.

A 35th-minute free-kick by Hutchison further highlighted Latvia's defensive frailty. McCann seemed set to prod in the loose ball in the ensuing scramble only for Kolinko, once a trialist at West Ham, to smother bravely. Although the contest was more even as half-time approached, both Pahars and his Dell colleague Imants Bleidelis underlined the threat to Scotland with a shot that Sullivan did well to keep out.

Elliott's stint as a World Cup striker was short-lived, Brown switching him to centre-back for the second half as well as introducing the Hearts pair Gary Naysmith and Colin Cameron for David Weir and Callum Davidson. Suddenly, Scotland looked more compact, and started passing the ball fluidly in the manner associated with Brown, with Hutchison at last finding room to assert his playmaking prowess.

Nevertheless, Elliott was forced to demonstrate his true value with a textbook sliding tackle on the edge of the penalty area in the 54th minute after Vitaly Astafjevs, now of Bristol Rovers, pounced on a slip by Billy Dodds in the centre circle and charged at the heart of Scotland's defence.

Much of Latvia's initial dynamism seemed to have dissipated, with Pahars dropping deep in search of the ball but seldom being allowed to turn and make one of his twisting, trademark runs. Stolcers, too, received scant opportunity to show the form that has brought him a flurry of goals in Russia. It was perhaps symptomatic of the home forwards' frustration that Pahars, under legitimate challenge from Hendry, immediately went to ground in search of a spot-kick.

The Swiss referee was unmoved, but might have cautioned Pahars for diving. It was a rare blemish on an excellent display by the officials, who lasted the pace of a frenetic affair better than many of the players. Even tiredness could not excuse Dodds, whose free header from McCann's 72nd-minute centre ought to have brought Scotland the breakthrough, but was hopelessly off target.