Scotland 2 Georgia 1: Beattie primes Scots for battle against world champions

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The Independent Online

Alex McLeish got the start he craved as Scotland's manager but the toughest assignments in Euro 2008 qualifying lie ahead. There are still two meetings to come with the world champions, Italy, the first in Bari on Wednesday. The Scots also have to face France in Paris and play host to Andrei Shevchenko's Ukraine.

Only two teams in Group B will go to Austria and Switzerland next summer, and France, Italy and Ukraine, in that order, remain comfortably ahead of Scotland in the betting. But none of that trio are ahead of them in the table. Craig Beattie's 89th-minute winner on Saturday gave Scotland their fourth victory in five qualifiers. The Celtic forward's strike was not a thing of beauty. It skimmed off his leg after he had brought a flick-on from his club-mate Kenny Miller to earth with his chest. But as he wheeled away in celebration, Hampden roared with real belief as well as real relief.

In a match more notable for battling spirit and Georgia's technical superiority than home dominance, the players McLeish has inherited from Walter Smith none the less did enough to suggest that Scotland's resurgence is authentic. If at times they favour a direct approach, to exploit the physical advantage that their tall players give them, at others they can play sweet passing football. And they make their share of chances, although converting them seems a problem at times.

That was not the case for the opener, when Kris Boyd met Gary Teale's pinpoint cross with a diving header. But two sitters of particular promise went begging. In the first half, at 1-0, Teale shot straight at the goalkeeper from 12 yards after beating the offside trap. Then 20 minutes from time, with Scotland chasing a winner, Gary Naysmith sent a perfect low ball from the left across the area, where Boyd was waiting almost on the goal-line. Boyd swung his leg at it and missed.

Miller hit three other shots on target, forcing saves of varying difficulty from George Lomaia, and Boyd hit the crossbar, Scott Brown ran dangerously at the defenders in his half an hour as a substitute and several other players had near misses.

Some of the Georgians spent an inordinate amount of time rolling around on the floor after the merest of touches and wailing like toddlers who had had their sweets confiscated whenever a Scot came close. But both Giorgi Demetradze, (a 5ft 6in bundle of a player who looks older than his 30 years and heavier than his stated 10st 12lb) and Levan Kobiashvili (the heartbeat of Schalke 04, who are top of the Bundesliga) were excellent throughout. Demetradze forced Craig Gordon to make one wonderful diving save from a ferocious volley before he turned David Weir inside out to rifle in the cross that allowed Shota Arveladze to head home for 1-1.

As McLeish said afterwards, it was "always in the script" for Arveladze, a former Rangers forward under McLeish, to score. As for the pride that McLeish, capped 77 times, himself felt in returning to the national stadium as the manager, he said his walk from the tunnel was "stunning, quite amazing."

Of his players, he said: "We suffered a setback by conceding just before half time, but they showed character to overcome that. The win is a tremendous boost. But I already knew we had a great spirit and a great work ethic in this group."

After seeing Beattie with "an odd running motion" in training, McLeish thought he might have an injury. "But Gordon [Strachan, McLeish's good friend and Beattie's manager] assured me that's just the way he runs!"

As Scotland turned their attention to Italy, Naysmith best summed up the value of substance over style. "It wasn't one of the greatest performances, but how many times do we play well and it ends up a bad luck story?"

Scotland (4-4-2): Gordon (Hearts); Alexander (Preston), Weir (Rangers), McManus (Celtic), Naysmith (Everton); Teale (Derby), Ferguson (Rangers), Hartley (Celtic), McCulloch (Wigan); Miller (Celtic), Boyd (Rangers). Substitutes used: Brown (Hibernian) for Teale, 60; Beattie (Celtic) for Boyd, 76; Maloney (Aston Villa) for Miller, 90.

Georgia (4-4-2): Lomaia (Carl Zeiss Jena); Shashiashvili (Dinamo Tbilisi), Salukvadze (Rubin Kazan), Khizanishvili (Blackburn), Eliava (Skonto Riga); Burduli (Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih), Menteshashvili (Shinnik Yaroslavl), Tskitishvili (Panionios), Kobiashvili (Schalke 04); Arveladze (AZ Alkmaar), Demetradze (Metalurh Donetsk). Substitutes used: Gogua (Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast) for Menteshashvili, h-t; Siradze (Erzgebirge Aue) for Burduli, 57; Mujiri (Krylya Sovetov Samara) for Tskitishvili, 90.

Referee: N Vollquartz (Denmark).