Moldova sunk by Etchosketch missile

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The Independent Online

Viktor Pasulko has seen better goals from pitch-side. One in particular. Back in the USSR playing days of the Moldova coach, he was sitting on the substitutes' bench at the Olympiastadion in Munich when Marco van Basten executed his trigonometrically-improbable volley in the European Championship final of 1988.

Viktor Pasulko has seen better goals from pitch-side. One in particular. Back in the USSR playing days of the Moldova coach, he was sitting on the substitutes' bench at the Olympiastadion in Munich when Marco van Basten executed his trigonometrically-improbable volley in the European Championship final of 1988.

From his vantage point at Hampden Park yesterday, Pasulko watched in despair as Evgheni Hmaruc, the flapping Moldovan goalkeeper, pawed a left-wing cross from Lee McCulloch towards his line and Christian Dailly applied the simplest of finishing touches.

It was no picture goal - more of a jerking Caledonian Etchosketch than a Dutch masterpiece - but a strike of note, nevertheless. Goals by Scotland players have become such a rarity they ought to be officially designated endangered species. Until yesterday, there had been just the one in four World Cup qualifiers: the equaliser by Steven Thompson in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, last October which failed to save both Scotland's face and Berti Vogts' bacon as national team coach.

Although Scottish hopes were high for Walter Smith's first match in charge on home soil, the powder-puff strike power of his inherited team did bring sow's ears rather than silk purses to mind. Smith's starting XI yesterday could count 183 caps between them but just seven international goals. None of them could boast more than two individually.

The stark statistical credentials soon showed after the strains of Mel Gibson doing his William Wallace impression over the public address system gave way to the reality of a highly energetic but strictly limited young team struggling to get a sniff of the Moldovan goal.

McCulloch, a winger pressed into central striking duties alongside Kenny Miller, did manage to get a long-range whiff or two before half-time. Indeed, the adopted Wiganer attempted a passable Van Basten impression, landing the ball on the roof of the net with an ambitious first-time effort from wide on the left.

The highly impressive McCulloch got his reward eight minutes into the second-half, with the jinking wing-play and the cross that led to the tap-in for Dailly, a replacement for the injured Jackie McNamara, midway through the first-half. It raised Dailly's international haul to five goals, although with 54 caps to his name the veteran defender can hardly be regarded as an answer to his country's striking problem.

Still, the massed ranks of the Tartan Army were grateful for the Dundonian's contribution as Smith's side clung fretfully to their lead - until the 89th minute, that is, when the Group Five qualifier turned into a veritable goal-fest. Released from bench duty as a substitute for McCulloch, James McFadden caught the Moldovan defence playing non-musical statues to take his international scoring tally to seven goals - positively nosebleed territory for a latter day Scotland striker.

All of which made it a satisfactory first day in the Hampden office for Smith and for the team ranked joint 85th in Fifa's world rankings, alongside Syria. As for Moldova, they might have flirted with the No 1 spot in the Eurovision Song Contest last month, but they have little hope of scaling the international heights that their coach did as a member of Valery Lobanovsky's Soviet Union squad.

Pasulko hammered the final nail into England's coffin in the 1988 European Championships, scoring the third goal for the USSR in their 3-1 group win in Frankfurt. In the final he was one of two Soviet substitutes used in the 2-0 defeat by Van Basten's Holland.

Pasulko's main striker, Serghei Rogaciov, happens to ply his trade for a club called Saturn Ramenskoye but his shooting is certainly not out of this world. Neither is Dailly's, perhaps, but it can be deadly from less than a yard.

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