Friendship and solidarity will be put on hold for 90 minutes tonight as Berti Vogts goes in search of the upset against Germany that would turn the screw on Rudi Völler and propel Scotland to within touching distance of a place in next year's European Championship finals.
Völler, currently enduring the kind of vilification which forced out Vogts five years ago, was lambasted by the former international Günter Netzer after Saturday's 0-0 draw in Iceland. His virulent response compounded the impression of the three-time world champions being in turmoil.
Despite admitting he felt "emotional" on his return to the country for whom he played 96 games and coached in 102 (with only 12 defeats), Vogts looked relaxed yesterday and offered a pragmatic view of Völler's outburst.
"It was a good idea by Rudi," the Scotland manager said. "He took the pressure off his players and on to himself."
Vogts added pointedly that "international football is changing, and the Germans don't realise it". A Scottish victory over the World Cup finalists would provide dramatic proof. Fanciful as the prospect may seem, especially in the Westfalen Stadium where Germany traditionally take must-win matches, Vogts claimed a side unbeaten in four games could now win "anywhere in the world".
Since his competitive scalps with Scotland comprise Iceland (twice) and the Faroe Islands, such bravado must be taken with a scoop of salt. When it was suggested, however, that this was an ideal time to be playing Germany, Vogts did little to dispel the impression that he agreed.
"The German focus has been hosting the 2006 World Cup, and they have to win it. Second place will be a disaster. But maybe they forgot about qualifying for Euro 2004." Völler was keen to concentrate minds on exactly that task yesterday. "It's time to forget the fuss over my comments and concentrate on football," the Germany coach said. "If we show pride, we can beat Scotland."
Vogts recalled how he once arranged for a vital qualifier against Armenia to be played in what he termed the Westfalen's "fantastic atmosphere". Germany won 6-0. Yet the present squad show scant signs of the aura of invincibility which pervaded the teams he and Völler played in.
For once, moreover, it is not Scotland who are suffering from depleted resources. Völler has lost Sebastian Deisler and Jens Jeremies due to injury, placing even greater responsibility on Michael Ballack.
The Scots should be close to full strength. Christian Dailly and Steven Pressley are recalled following suspension, the first as the base in a midfield "diamond" checking Ballack's surges, the second as a defensive linchpin. Paul Lambert, the captain and a European Cup-winner with tonight's hosts, Borussia Dortmund, is set to return after an ankle injury.
The only casualty is Don Hutchison, and with Stevie Crawford on a one-game ban, his loss reduces the options for what could be a lone striker's role. Hutchison's presence has symbolic value, though, as the scorer when Scotland beat Germany 1-0 in Bremen in 1998.
One method Vogts will resist in pursuit of a repeat is an appeal to the players to "win it for me". He recounted how Helmut Schön pleaded with West Germany's team to secure victory "for my sake" against his native East Germany in the 1974 World Cup. Their progress assured, and with second place meaning they avoided Brazil and the Netherlands, "Der Terrier" and Co lost 1-0 - yet went on to win the competition.
The runners-up spot would suit Scotland, too, though only because it looked beyond them when they trailed the Faroe Islands 2-0 after 13 minutes in Group Five. This time, Vogts has his sights set higher.
GERMANY (4-4-2; probable): Kahn (Bayern Munich); Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Bauman (Werder Bremen), Worns (Borussia Dortmund), Rau (Bayern); Schneider (Bayer Leverkusen), Ballack (Bayern), Kehl (Borussia Dortmund), Ramelow (Bayer Leverkusen); Bobic (Hertha), Neuville (Bayer Leverkusen).
SCOTLAND (4-5-1; probable): Douglas (Celtic); McNamara (Celtic), Pressley, Webster (both Hearts), Naysmith (Everton); Cameron (Wolves), Dailly (West Ham United), Ferguson (Blackburn Rovers), Lambert (Celtic), McCann (Southampton); Thompson (Rangers).
Referee: A Frisk (Sweden).Reuse content