With some Scotland captains of recent vintage, the declaration that they have "nothing to fear from Germany" could sound like so much Braveheart bluster. Coming from Paul Lambert, who gained a Champions' League winners' medal with Borussia Dortmund, it is an opinion strongly held, calmly delivered and based on first-hand experience.
Few British contemporaries can claim as much success against German opposition as the 33-year-old midfielder. As well as proving himself a top Bundesliga performer, Lambert led the Scotland Under-21 team which, under Craig Brown's stewardship, beat their German counterparts 4-3 in an epic Uefa quarter-final more than a decade ago. He was also at the heart of Brown's senior side when they won a Bremen friendly 1-0 in 1999, and scored in Celtic's victory over VfB Stuttgart en route to this year's Uefa Cup final.
Lambert gives little away. Where the ball is concerned, it is a precious attribute, which explains why Dortmund saw something Scottish and English clubs evidently did not. Off the pitch, he selects his words as carefully as a pass under pressure. Behind the quiet, almost shy manner, there is an impressive firmness of resolve and sense of focus on the task facing Scotland in tomorrow's Euro 2004 qualifier against Germany at Hampden Park.
"I've told the other lads they've nothing to fear," Lambert said yesterday. "I know Germany are a really good football nation, but if you play with fear there is something wrong. We have got to stop them, but we must also try to play ourselves and try to hurt them. No one thought we'd beat them four years ago and people expect us to get turned over this time, but sometimes Scotland shock a few people when they're written off."
The side Berti Vogts, the Scotland coach, will send out against his compatriots is likely to contain a sprinkling of tartan tiros, such as Maurice Ross and Andy Webster, 22 and 21 respectively, in defence, and Kenny Miller, 23, up front. A sell-out crowd should provide the ideal atmosphere for such players, who have 13 caps in total, yet Lambert is aware that a failure to fulfil inflated expectations could bring the fans' frustrations down on the team.
"A lot of the guys are inexperienced at international level, whereas I'm old enough to know that criticism comes with the territory," he said. "They should realise that this game is an unbelievable one to play in. I wouldn't read too much into the friendlies we've played. They're for experimenting. A competitive match and full house at Hampden is when things start to heat up. These are the games we should be judged on."
Lambert knows the German mentality well, having arrived in the country soon after Vogts led the national side to triumph in Euro 96 at Wembley and stayed 18 months before Celtic brought him home. He laughs off the notion that last year's World Cup finalists will succumb to complacency, born of arrogance, against the country listed 64th in Fifa's world rankings.
"I can't see that happening, though the players are different from my time there. We know that we have to play at a high tempo, and we can't allow them any time on the ball. Lithuania took a point from them, while the Faroe Islands lost only 2-1 in Germany. That tells you they can be hurt. We'll take a draw, but we're going out to win. There's no pressure on us because we're massive underdogs," Lambert adds.
Had Celtic's defeat by Porto in the Uefa Cup final in Seville, followed by the fractional failure to deny Rangers the League title, made it difficult for him to lift himself? "Not at all. Apart from the result, I wouldn't change Seville for anything. It was a phenomenal experience. Although we didn't win anything, it has still been a magical season," Lambert emphasises.
Defeat tomorrow could, conceivably, prompt his retirement as a Scotland player after eight years and 38 caps. He agreed with Vogts a year ago to review the situation after this fixture, the implication being that he would carry on provided Scotland were not totally out of the Euro 2004 qualification picture.
"I still think we've got a realistic chance of, at the very worst, a play-off," Lambert said, as if already looking forward to the potential Group Five decider with Germany on 9 September. After all, it will be in Dortmund.
* Alan Quinn and Stephen McPhail sat out training for the Republic of Ireland yesterday, but Shay Given played a full part in preparations for tomorrow's Euro 2004 qualifier against Albania. The workout was the first serious action for the Newcastle United goalkeeper, who has a slight calf strain, since Sunday. Quinn was kept out of training by a knock he had picked up on Wednesday, while McPhail also took no part after he suffered a recurrence of a thigh strain. However, both players are expected to be play in the Dublin fixture. The Republic's manager, Brian Kerr, could play Blackburn's Damien Duff behind two strikers, Tottenham's Robbie Keane and David Connolly, of Wimbledon.Reuse content