Germany offer solace to Vogts in qualifying war of nerves

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The Independent Online

To the sound of jaws dropping from Dumfries to Durness, Berti Vogts described Scotland's display in the 1-1 draw with New Zealand "a great step in the right direction". Perhaps it is a German thing. One of the few others than the Scotland manager to detect any redeeming features in his side's performance was Michael Skibbe, Rudi Völler's deputy with the World Cup runners-up.

Skibbe was in Edinburgh on Tuesday to watch Scotland labour against a side that had not played for eight months, just as he had sat alongside Völler when Vogts' adopted country lost their last Euro 2004 qualifier 1-0 in Lithuania. With only 10 days to go until Germany, the group leaders, visit Hampden Park for a match which could all but settle the issue of automatic qualification, the former Borussia Dortmund coach was careful not to sound as unimpressed by Scotland as the 10,000 crowd at Tynecastle.

Mindful that any hint of complacency might seep into the psyche of Germany's players, and be seized upon by a partisan Scottish press, Skibbe searched for positives when asked his opinion of Scotland. He admired the movement of the full-backs, Maurice Ross and Gary Naysmith, and shared Vogts' view that James McFadden, the Motherwell attacker, used his pace, dribbling skill and crossing ability well.

Originally relegated to the stand-by list for the 7 June game, McFadden did enough to persuade Vogts that he should be reinstated in the squad. Whether the 20-year-old did enough to earn a starting role against Germany is another matter for, as Skibbe cautioned, it is dangerous to read too much into a friendly match.

"I'm sure Scotland and Germany will play at a higher level," he said. "We haven't played our best in the non-competitive fixtures either, for instance against Serbia and Montenegro recently."

Scotland are setting some store by the belief that they can unsettle Germany with high balls to a tall striker. Vogts has frequently referred to Don Hutchison's part in the Scots' 1-0 win in Bremen four years ago, even though his goal was a crisp shot from 15 yards rather than a header. He also insisted that Sunderland's raw centre-forward, Kevin Kyle, had excited the interest of Bundesliga scouts.

But if aerial power is to be a decisive factor Scotland should perhaps look at how static their own centre-backs were when Ryan Nelsen cancelled out Stevie Crawford's early goal from a McFadden corner. "We have lots of tall and tough players who are excellent headers of the ball," Skibbe said pointedly.

He appeared more concerned by the fact that Paul Lambert, whose talent for not relinquishing possession cheaply he remembers well from their Dortmund days, would be fit to face the Germans after resting a minor injury on Tuesday. Lambert's return in the absence of Barry Ferguson offers a chance to alter the balance in midfield. Jackie McNamara, an effective ball-winner if not distributor against New Zealand, could assume a similar role, with Colin Cameron's ability to break forward providing a radical alternative.

Vogts, who has started Cameron only once in a reign whose record now stands at three wins, two draws and nine defeats, recited his name like a mantra whenever the Germany match was mentioned. Either the disinformation campaign to confuse compatriots has already started or he has undergone an overnight conversion to the Wolves player's merits. Given the selection blunders of the past 15 months, the latter seems more likely.

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