James McFadden underlined his burgeoning reputation with the audacious goal which gave Scotland a glimpse of Euro 2004 yesterday at Hampden Park and planted a seed of doubt into Dutch minds.
The perennial under-achievers were pushed aside by Berti Vogts' unfancied team in the first leg of this play-off. McFadden provided a precious lead to take to Amsterdam for the return on Wednesday, and if it proves a winning margin, the 20-year-old's goal could be celebrated as much as Archie Gemmill's famous strike against a precious Dutch incarnation in the 1978 World Cup finals. For Dick Advocaat, who won silverware at this stadium with Rangers, it was an unhappy return. He has vowed to quit if Holland fail, and now the pressure is on the men the Dutch call 'the golden generation without a prize'.
There were several selection changes for the raucous Hampden crowd to ponder, with Lee Wilkie recalled in central defence. The Dutch surprise, if it can be called that, was the inclusion by Advocaat of Ruud van Nistelrooy alongside Patrick Kluivert, abandoning a recent preference for the latter. Any doubts the Dutch had been distracted from this task by internal feuds were dispelled in the opening minutes when Edgar Davids cut down Barry Ferguson in a clear message of intent to Scotland's playmaker.
The two most inexperienced members of Vogts' team, Darren Fletcher and McFadden, showed few signs of nerves on the biggest occasion in their short careers. McFadden produced the first shot on target after 10 minutes when Jaap Stam, under pressure from Paul Dickov, headed the ball down into the path of McFadden whose audacious 30-yard volley forced a save from Edwin van der Saar.
Almost immediately the Dutch conjured up a response. The movement of Van Nistelrooy and Kluivert confused the Scots and Gary Naysmith had to produce a frantic dive to block Andy van der Meyde's shot. However, the opening 20 minutes were satisfying for Scotland. They appreciated Holland's quality, but chose not to fear it. Vogts' team hounded their opponents in midfield, giving them little time to gain any fluency.
That enterprise was rewarded when Scotland took the lead in the 22nd minute and it had the youthful flourish of McFadden and Fletcher inscribed all over it. The Manchester United teenager made the initial incision, threading a pass to Ferguson whose deftness allowed Dickov to get in behind the defence and deliver a low cross that was cleared at the expense of a costly corner by Frank de Boer.
McFadden's inswinging kick was headed back out to the Everton player by Kluivert, and McFadden seized on it with gusto, exchanging passes with Fletcher, gathering his colleague's delicious backheel and thrashing a fierce left foot shot that took a deflection from De Boer on its way past van der Saar.
Hampden erupted. It was more than the Tartan Army could have dreamed of, though the Dutch quickly summoned up a period of pressure in which Stam's header forced a save out of Rab Douglas and van der Meyde engineered space on the edge of the box but slashed his shot over the bar.
The scrutiny reached fierce levels before half-time as Wilkie cleared the ball off the line after Douglas mishandled, Marc Overmars went down looking for a penalty with Jackie McNamara behind him and then Naysmith's vigilance on the far post paid off when he scrambled away De Boer's header from Van der Meyde's corner.
Advocaat sensed a fresh input was needed and withdrew Giovanni van Bronckhorst for Clarence Seedorf and abandoned his habitual back four by pushing an extra man into midfield. Seedorf saw a lot of the ball in an intriguing passage up to the hour, but Holland simply could not impose themselves on the contest. Indeed, with precious few glimpses of goal, Stam took it upon himself to produce the only threat by breaking from the back and firing a long-range left foot shot that flew over Douglas's crossbar.
The pressure became more intense, yet Scotland's concentration levels were exceedingly high with McNamara reading everything and mopping up on countless occasions. The Dutch brought on Rafael van der Vaart for Davids and the Ajax youngster almost levelled the game after 63 minutes. Again Stam's intrusion forward brought the opening, with a cross that was knocked down by Kluivert but Van der Vaart's hook shot from 10 yards thumped off the bar before being cleared to safety.
A certain amount of anxiety began to creep into the Dutch efforts. Seedorf displayed deftness and panic in equal measure as he cut into the box after a delightful one-two with Kluivert, but blazed his shot over. Scotland substitute Stephen Pearson marked his arrival, clipping a volley inches wide with 12 minutes left.
Scotland 1 Holland 0
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 51,000
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- Rafael Van Der Vaart
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- Sir Alex Ferguson
- The Netherlands