Scotland 1 France 0: Caldwell plays hero in Scots' epic tale

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The Independent Online

Even the morning after the delight before, this result seemed no less incredible, no less astonishing. It was that kind of occasion: epic atmosphere, compelling narrative, extraordinary outcome, a match that Scotland fans will long savour, and one that makes an instant entry into the nation's all-time best results. For years to come, those who saw it will revel in being able to say "I was there".

Not only did the hosts, who have routinely failed in recent times even to qualify for major tournaments, beat France, the World Cup runners-up and arguably the best side in the world right now, they did it on merit. They stand three points clear at the top of their Euro 2008 qualifying group today, at altitude even before catching this morning's flight to Kiev for Wednesday's encounter with Ukraine.

How did that happen? It was the question spread joyously across the faces of players and fans alike as they eventually dragged themselves away from the stomping bonhomie of Hampden and into the evening drizzle on Saturday night. The answer says much about revitalised Scots under Walter Smith, and the talent emerging or blossoming under his care.

This famous victory was achieved not through French negligence or complacency, because Les Bleus were scintillating at times, including most of the first half. Raymond Domenech's team could have been 3-0 or 4-0 up inside 21 minutes but they were not because Scotland's disciplined adherence to Walter Smith's game plan was so impressive it deserved the bits of luck that fell the hosts' way.

That was Act I, the heroic struggle to reach half-time at 0-0. It was no fluke, and it was not pretty, but it worked because the five defenders, epitomised by the rock-solid Gary Caldwell, were helped by their team-mates in what at times became a 9-0-1 formation. James McFadden, the maverick in the home pack, ploughed a lone, tiring, commendable furrow up front, waiting for scraps from the French table.

Act II started after the interval team-talk in which, to paraphrase Walter Smith, the Scotland manager told his men: "Good work, but you can play a bit yourselves. Why don't you show it?"

They re-entered the fray with gusto. Darren Fletcher upped his already substantial contribution in the heart of midfield, Barry Ferguson found his feet and his fighting spirit, Paul Hartley's runs became cleverer and quicker, and when Wigan's Gary Teale replaced club-mate Lee McCulloch on the left wing, he joined left-back Graham Alexander (of Preston, though he verged on Brazilian at times) in performing above his station.

This phase concluded with the goal, arriving after two corners, won by McFadden and then Hartley, who took both. Caldwell bustled past Eric Abidal to get a foot to the ball and write his name in the annuls of the Scottish game.

Act III, which lasted from then (the 67th minute) until about 10 minutes from time, was pulsating. Just as France had run riot in the first half (when Henry hit the post and had a free-kick saved, Patrick Vieira and David Trezeguet both netted but were offside, and Florent Malouda whizzed around, peppering dangerous shots), so Scotland upped their game.

Hartley and Fletcher executed thrilling interplays. Ferguson and Hartley sliced the defence open, if to no avail. Teale and Alexander stormed up the flanks on the break. The Scots' defence held. It was just like watching France (almost).

So to the denouement, when the visitors (beaten just once in 40 previous qualifiers), regrouped and poured forward. By this time, Louis Saha and Sylvain Wiltord were also alongside Henry. Scotland dug in, very deep. Willy Sagnol's shot was blocked. Saha missed. Craig Gordon saved from Henry. Saha missed. Gordon saved from Henry again, then Wiltord, then Saha. The whistle blew. The joint was already jumping.

Now it soared.

Over 90 minutes Scotland had performed to a level way in advance of the sum of their parts, while France, superior technically and physically, tried and tried again, yet failed to break through. The hearts (and men from Hearts, Wigan, Preston and elsewhere) had triumphed over counterparts from Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter, Juventus, Lyon et al.

No really, they did.

Goal: Caldwell (67) 1-0.

Scotland (5-4-1): Gordon (Hearts); Dailly (West Ham), Caldwell (Celtic), Pressley (Hearts), Weir (Everton), Alexander (Preston); Hartley (Hearts), Fletcher (Manchester United), Ferguson (Rangers), McCulloch (Wigan); McFadden (Everton). Substitutes used: Teale (Wigan) for McCulloch, 58; O'Connor (Lokomotiv Moscow) for McFadden, 72.

France (4-4-2): Coupet (Lyon); Sagnol (Bayern Munich), Thuram (Barcelona), Boumsong (Juventus), Abidal (Lyon); Ribéry (Marseilles), Vieira (Internazionale), Makelele (Chelsea), Malouda (Lyon); Trezeguet (Juventus); Henry (Arsenal). Substitutes used: Saha (Manchester United) for Trezeguet, 62; Wiltord (Lyon) for Ribéry, 74.

Referee: M Busacca (Switzerland).

Booked: McFadden, McCulloch, Dailly.

Man of the match: Caldwell.

Attendance: 50,456.