Lambert inspires return of optimism to Scottish hearts

Euro 2004: Scotland 1 Germany 1: Uplifting draw helps Vogts' men partially atone for insipid past displays while Republic ride their luck in unconvincing victory
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Eleven days earlier, when Berti Vogts hailed a scrappy stalemate with New Zealand as "a great step in the right direction", one suspected that the Iraqi minister of information had resurfaced as manager of Scotland. Comical Berti had a certain ring to it and yet, on a day when Scottish football rediscovered its self-respect, the joke was on Germany.

A point at home may seem a flimsy basis for renewed optimism over the Scotland team, let alone a reappraisal of Vogts' largely shambolic reign. And in practical terms, the best they can hope for from Group Five still looks to be a play-off place behind Germany.

But for a country which had begun to believe that draws with the Faroe Islands and defeats by Lithuania were a true measure of their standing in international football, Saturday's outcome was as uplifting in its way as England's 5-1 romp in Germany two years ago.

The task now is for Vogts to achieve what Sven Goran Eriksson, with far greater resources, has arguably failed to do since that heady night in Munich. That is to demonstrate that the result is a pointer to genuine rebirth rather than a one-off. There will be no better gauge of Scotland's progress than the return fixture, in Dortmund on 10 September, which should effectively decide who goes through automatically to Euro 2004.

While Rudi Völler's team remain favourites, events in Glasgow confirmed that they are a shadow of the indomitable sides in which Völler and Vogts played. Even allowing for the fact that their key player, Michael Ballack, was palpably unfit, Germany's display strengthened the suspicion that there have been few more humdrum World Cup finalists.

Völler admitted they "lacked imagination" and deserved what they got. Fredi Bobic, his former Bolton striker, summed it up colourfully as "a pig of a match for us".

Ballack was overshadowed by a player that proved he could live with the best of the Bundesliga, Paul Lambert. Scotland's captain was a paradigm of poise and precision, making it vital Vogts persuades him to play on. The 33-year-old former Dortmund midfielder said a year ago that he would assess his international future this summer. His mind is now "made up", though he will have a holiday before saying which way.

Lambert's leadership manifested itself before a ball was kicked when, possibly recognising that Vogts' command of English is not what it might be, he gave a inspirational rallying talk in the dressing-room. Scotland's version of the three tenors then performed the considerable feat of injecting life into "Flower of Scotland" and a feeling flowed from the stands which said, in defiance of logic, that this might just be their day.

Vogts, however, had sacrificed width on the left of midfield for a compact unit to compete with Ballack, Jens Jeremies and Bernd Schneider. Gary Naysmith was unprotected, so it was no surprise when Torsten Frings crossed from that wing midway through the first half for Bobic to exploit Steven Pressley's mistimed leap by heading in.

If Germany had gone 2-0 up, which only Rab Douglas' agility prevented their doing, we might have seen the deflowering of Scotland. Instead, Völler's team sat on their lead. Lambert, with dashing support from Colin Cameron that made a nonsense of Vogts' 14-match neglect of the Wolves player, began to drive the blue jerseys forward. Cameron scuffed a chance to equalise, but still the crowd favoured raucous backing rather than restlessness.

Scotland's reward for refusing to be disheartened was stamped: "Made in Wolverhampton". Cameron's quickly taken free-kick found Kenny Miller darting clear to angle his shot beyond Oliver Kahn. Suddenly the T-shirt slogan "Yes we Kahn" looked anything but fanciful.

The energy levels shown by Scotland were striking. Perhaps more surprisingly, so was the ability of some of their players. Andy Webster, who was scratching a living with Arbroath 18 months ago, never wavered at the back in only his third international. Miller's maturity belied his total of five caps. And the likes of Christian Dailly, Naysmith, Cameron and Douglas gave Lambert the response he demanded.

All of which left many fans wondering why Scotland have been so anaemic, so devoid of passion, to use the manager's buzz word, during Vogts' 16-month tenure. When asked whether he explain the dichotomy, the German reiterated his theme of the friendly matches merely being preparation for the game with his compatriots. "Same players, different team," he said, positively glowing. "Today, for the first time, I was thinking: 'Hey, that's Scottish football'."

The Scots invariably play better as underdogs. They will obviously enjoy that status before more than 60,000 baying Germans in Dortmund, if not in the last two home games, against the Faroes and Lithuania. Two victories should guarantee at least second place, although no one with a grasp of Scotland's history will take six points for granted.

Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the embarrassment by Iran in the World Cup. That, too, finished 1-1, but it is all about context. Draws at Hampden with Belgium and Croatia fatally undermined Scotland's qualifying campaign for a place in last year's World Cup. Now, though, a point against Germany appears likely to have real value.

Vogts' new-found admirers certainly savoured it. "I had a feeling we'd win today, and we did," purred a caller to Radio Scotland's phone-in. You knew what he meant.

Scotland 1
Miller 69

Germany 1
Bobic 23

H-T: 0-1 Att: 48,037

SCOTLAND (4-4-2): Douglas (Celtic); Ross (Rangers), Webster (Hearts), Pressley (Hearts), Naysmith (Everton); Devlin (Birmingham), Lambert (Celtic), Dailly (West Ham), Cameron (Wolves); Miller (Wolves), Crawford (Dunfermline). Substitutes: Rae (Dundee) for Devlin, 60; McNamara (Celtic) for Ross, 75; Thompson (Rangers) for Miller, 90.

GERMANY (3-5-2): Kahn (Bayern Munich); Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Ramelow (Bayer Leverkusen), Wörns (Borussia Dortmund); Frings (Borussia Dortmund), Schneider (Bayer Leverkusen), Jeremies, Ballack (both Bayern Munich), Rau (VfL Wolfsburg); Bobic (Hannover 96), Klose (Kaiserslautern). Substitutes: Freier (VfL Bochum) for Rau, 57; Neuville (Bayer Leverkusen) for Klose, 74; Kehl (Borussia Dortmund) for Schneider, 86.

Referee: D Messina (Italy).

* An 89th-minute header by the substitute Tryggvi Gudmundsson gave Iceland a 2-1 win over Faroe Islands in Group Five on Saturday, putting them two points behind Scotland with a game in hand. Gudmundsson headed into the top corner past Jakup Mikkelsen, who had kept his team afloat with some spectacular saves. Iceland had taken the lead in the 49th minute with a goal by Helgi Sigurdsson, but the Faroes equalised just after the hour through Rogvi Jacobsen.

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