Gallacher earns priceless point for Scotland

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Craig Brown was forced to take a fan's-eye view of the final half-hour of last night's World Cup encounter here after being sent off by a fussy French referee for something he said. The Scotland manager must have enjoyed what he saw, his side deservedly earning a draw in a city where only France, the world champions, have ever beaten Croatia.

Craig Brown was forced to take a fan's-eye view of the final half-hour of last night's World Cup encounter here after being sent off by a fussy French referee for something he said. The Scotland manager must have enjoyed what he saw, his side deservedly earning a draw in a city where only France, the world champions, have ever beaten Croatia.

Despite a result which cemented their position as leaders of Group Six, Brown was entitled to feel slightly disappointed. Scotland, having recovered from Alen Boksic's early goal to equalise swiftly through Kevin Gallacher, made the best openings of the second half, only for Colin Hendry and Don Hutchison to miss with the goal at their mercy.

Although the quest to qualify for 2002 has been under way barely a month, Scotland have now completed three-quarters of their away schedule. The campaign goes on hold until March when the third of the possible section winners, Belgium, go to Glasgow. Croatia follow next September.

When Scotland last visited Zagreb, Croats represented Yugoslavia, and own goals by Steve Nicol and Gary Gillespie embarrassed Jim Leighton. This time, with the spectre of "Leightongate" temporarily banished, Brown had freshened up his side by bringing in David Weir, Craig Burley, Tom Boyd and Allan Johnston, the winger operating as an orthodox striker before giving way to Paul Dickov after the break.

If Brown was relieved that Davor Suker was not fit even to start on the bench, his satisfaction proved short-lived. Prompted by Robert Prosinecki, sublimely skilled if prone to over-elaboration, Croatia initially laid siege to Scotland. Boksic, heading too high, and Bosko Balaban, firing hurriedly wide, both threatened before Neil Sullivan's goal fell.

With 16 minutes played, a marvellous long pass by Zvonimir Soldo picked out Boksic's run between Hendry and Matt Elliott. The placement and power of the Middlesbrough man's finish matched the service.

Scotland's reaction was typically defiant and within eight minutes they were level. Moments after the referee had rightly refused Hendry's appeals for a penalty, the Hearts combination of Gary Naysmith and Colin Cameron worked an opening on the left flank.

From Cameron's low cross, Gallacher stabbed the ball home for his first international goal since 1997, when he scored against Latvia to send the Scots on their way to the last World Cup finals. It was a timely response to criticism of his petulant reaction to being substituted in San Marino.

Miroslav Blazevic, the Croatian coach, also made changes at half-time, one of which gave the watching Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier, the opportunity to look again at Igor Biscan. The other substitute, Boris Zivkovic, soon sent a textbook overhead kick straight at Sullivan, but Scotland should have gone ahead in their next attack.

Again it was the understanding between the Coventry-bound Naysmith and Cameron that created the 56th-minute opening. Hendry, hurtling in unmarked at the far post, headed into the side-netting. It was difficult not to feel sympathy for the Scottish captain, who had earlier dispossessed Boksic with the most vital of several trademark last-ditch tackles.

The end-to-end nature of the exchanges was further highlighted four minutes later. Prosinecki took aim through a congested penalty area and saw the ball swerve past Sullivan before striking the inside of the far upright and rolling across goal before being cleared.

Brown's banishment followed an altercation between Robert Kovac and Dickov in which the Scot seemed the innocent party. The decision to award the free-kick to Croatia provoked a reaction from the Scotland dug-out, which led to the manager being escorted across the track to the stand.

He had all too clear a view, therefore, of the chance which went begging on 70 minutes. Once more, Cameron's centre was exemplary, as was Gallacher's lay-off. Hutchison, normally a paragon of technical virtue, blazed wide.

Brown, though, appeared sufficiently heartened by the point and the performance to spend much of the remaining time joking and gesticulating from his new perch.

CROATIA (3-5-2): Pavlovic (LASK Linz); R Kovac (Bayer Leverkusen), Stimac (West Ham), Simic (Internazionale); Saric (Panathinaikos), Soldo (VfB Stuttgart), Prosinecki (Standard Liege), N Kovac (Hamburg), Jarni (Las Palmas); Balaban (Dinamo Zagreb), Boksic (Middlesbrough). Substitutes: Biscan (Dinamo Zagreb) for Soldo, h-t; Zivkovic (Bayer Leverkusen) for Jarni, h-t; Vugrinec (Lecce) for Boksic, 75.

SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Sullivan (Tottenham); Hendry (Coventry), Elliott (Leicester), Weir (Everton); Boyd (Celtic), Burley (Derby), Hutchison (Sunderland), Cameron (Hearts), Naysmith (Hearts); Johnston (Rangers), Gallacher (Newcastle). Substitutes: Dickov (Manchester City) for Johnston, h-t; Holt (Kilmarnock) for Dickov, h-t.

Referee: G Veissiere (France).

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