Smith has Scotland believing once again

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The object of their acclaim was the two-goal Miller, of Wolves, rather than Dalglish, of Celtic and Liverpool. After several years in which revisiting Archie Gemmill's slalom through the Dutch defence or David Narey's bullet against Brazil seemed preferable to the humdrum reality of Scotland's current status, Walter Smith has swiftly fashioned a side that may yet feature in Germany.

The nations in Group Five have only two fixtures remaining, with fourth-placed Scotland facing a tough finale away to a Slovenia side lying third. If Norway remain favourites to finish runners-up, Smith, in just six matches, has instituted a pattern of play and self-belief that could exploit any slip by the Scandinavians or Slovenia.

Tomorrow brings the 20th anniversary of Jock Stein's death on World Cup duty with Scotland. It is hard to resist the feeling that Stein would have admired the way in which Smith has restored pride and panache.

After two opportunist strikes took Miller's tally for Scotland to four in a month, the only negative for Smith was Ole Martin Arst's late riposte. A 2-0 win would have provided a one-goal advantage over Aage Hareide's team in their head-to-head meetings should the two countries end up level on points, Norway having won 1-0 in Glasgow when the Scottish FA was dithering over whether or when to ditch Smith's predecessor Berti Vogts.

To neutral eyes, Scotland would enhance the finals more than Norway, who lumped the ball towards the high-rise John Carew and then crowded in for the secondary ball. The Scots' passing and movement in the first half was as fluid as any they have produced since Gary McAllister and John Collins dovetailed during Craig Brown's reign.

Barry Ferguson, the captain, and Darren Fletcher orchestrated moves in a manner that an observer from the Netherlands would have appreciated. When Norway intensified the barrage, it became evident that their calmness had imbued their defensive colleagues, with David Weir showing how badly he was missed after falling out with Vogts.

Ferguson best summed up the difference between the teams. "It was flair football, the way the game should be played, and when we were under pressure, we handled it well by slowing it down and playing our way out," he said pointedly.

Rangers' leading player he may be, but in terms of articulating a deep-rooted need in the Scottish psyche to win with style, it could have been Celtic's late, great manager talking.