Smith's poor self-starters have character to spare

Scotland 1 United States 1
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The Independent Football

The prognosis for Scotland is that their recovery under Walter Smith continues. Coming from an early goal down, they shook off a fitful, uncertain start to draw against a team ranked seventh in the world. That showed character.

Late in the game Smith also brought on his characters: Everton's mercurial James McFadden, capable of brilliance and whimsy in a single move; Hibernian's exciting 20-year-old midfielder Scott Brown, who had a last-gasp strike ruled marginally and correctly offside; and Celtic's Shaun Maloney, 22, who on his day can dash as sweetly with the ball at his feet as a young Michael Owen.

For many fans, it was all pretty meaningless. A half-full Hampden, despite adult tickets on sale for as little as £13, proved that. Still, this was a rare chance for Smith to toy with ideas before Euro 2008 qualifying begins next September. He started with an experimental 3-4-2-1 that too often in the early stages played as a clunking 5-4-1.

"The way we are starting games - especially in home games - is a bit of a concern and a problem," Smith said. "There is still a lack of confidence in the team. They wait and see what happens rather than grasp the nettle. But we overcame that. I thought the performance overall was another decent one."

The more significant story for the wider footballing world is that of the Americans. World Cup quarter-finalists in 2002, they will travel to Germany next summer to play in a fifth consecutive finals. Their coach, Bruce Arena, used more than 40 players in qualifying, not through uncertainly but because he has options and emerging talent in all areas. Some 14 players who could have played against Scotland were not even in the squad, including Claudio Reyna, John O'Brien, Landon Donovan and Brian McBride.

Of those Arena used on Saturday, PSV Eindhoven's DaMarcus Beasley was a constant threat with his pace and passing. He was charging on goal when Christian Dailly pushed him off the ball for a penalty, which was converted by striker Josh Wolff, another livewire. Scotland's equaliser came via a header from Hearts' Andy Webster.

"We were only able to field four of our first-team players and you always have a concern about continuity," Arena said. "But we were pretty solid and I was pleased with that."

Goals: Wolff pen (9) 1-0; Webster (37) 1-1.

SCOTLAND (3-4-2-1): Gordon; Pressley, Webster (all Hearts), Weir (Everton); Dailly (West Ham), Hartley (Hearts), Quashie (Southampton), Alexander

(Preston); Fletcher (Manchester United), McCann (Southampton); O'Connor (Hibernian). Substitutes used: S Caldwell (Sunderland) on for Pressley, h-t; G Caldwell (Hibernian) on for Dailly, h-t; McFadden (Everton) on for McCann, 63; Maloney (Celtic) on for Quashie, 74; Brown (Hibernian) on for O'Connor, 74.

UNITED STATES (4-4-2): Keller (Borussia Moenchengladbach); Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Bocanegra (Fulham), Berhalter (Energie Cottbus), Spector (Charlton); Gaven (NJ Metro Stars), Zavagnin (Kansas City Wizards), Carroll (DC United), Beasley (PSV Eindhoven); Ching (San Jose Earthquakes), Wolff (Kansas City Wizards). Substitutes used: Olsen (DC United) on for Zavagnin, h-t; Quaranta (DC United) on for Gaven, h-t; Rolfe (Chicago Fire) on for Wolff, 58; Pearce (FC Nordjylland) on for Beasley, 76; Conrad (Kansas City Wizards) on for Bocanegra, 79.

Referee: A U Mallenco (Spain).

Booked: Scotland S Caldwell.

Man of the match: Beasley.

Attendance: 26,708.