Vogts calls on Scots to produce 'the game of their lives'

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The Independent Football

Even Those sporting tartan-tinted glasses at Hampden Park today would struggle to sustain a comparison between Berti Vogts' Scotland and the West Germany team with whom he won the World Cup. Yet the key to an upset in the first leg of the Euro 2004 play-off may lie as much in the way Vogts and his compatriots negated superior Dutch skill 29 years ago as in the Scots' capacity to play "the game of their lives".

Trawling his memories of 1974 for omens yesterday, the Scotland manager remained sufficiently rooted in reality not to claim he possesses a finisher of Gerd Müller's predatory talent or a man-marker capable of snuffing out Johan Cruyff like he did. Where there were lessons the Scots might usefully absorb, he argued, was in the Germans' unity of purpose, discipline and concentration.

"We were better than the Netherlands in only two positions for that final, Franz Beckenbauer and the goalkeeper [Sepp Maier]," Vogts admitted. "But we were very strong mentally. After they went 1-0 up in the first minute we said, 'Hey, we can still win'. The German mentality is very focused. The Dutch way of life is much more relaxed."

Born and raised close to the Dutch border, Vogts professed admiration for the technique of Netherlands teams past and present. However, the German in him could not resist implying that they were under-achievers, with "only" one major title, the European Championship in 1988. "We usually get the better of them. The Dutch have the higher quality, but the Germans function as a team, and that's important."

Vogts clearly hopes that the disharmony which has afflicted the Oranje since Cruyff's heyday will resurface if Scotland can, to use the vernacular, "get intae" Dick Advocaat's team. A repeat of the displays in the group games with Germany, which brought a draw and narrow defeat, would certainly give the Scots a fighting chance.

Vogts insisted he had "a good feeling" about today, and did not see it as tempting providence to venture that qualifying for Portugal would be "my biggest success - even better than taking Germany to the title in Euro 96". Typically for a campaign that began with two quickfire Faroese goals against them, Scotland must do it the hard way.

Already missing their injured captain, Paul Lambert, and their best box-to-box player, Colin Cameron, they will probably be without one of the likely replacements due to Gavin Rae's groin strain. In order to shore up the midfield, Christian Dailly may be switched from the back and asked to prevent the Dutch from picking out their passes in much the way that he stifled Michael Ballack in the first German fixture.

In that eventuality, Andy Webster would partner Steven Pressley in central defence. But it is the composition and balance of his midfield that must have occupied Vogts' thoughts most. While he maintained yesterday that he is not "a gambler", he could well start with two wide players, in Darren Fletcher and James McFadden, who are aged 19 and 20 respectively and have a mere eight caps between them.

Advocaat is well acquainted with the Scottish scene after his three years at Rangers. However, the English-based pair, like Motherwell's uncapped Stephen Pearson, will be largely unknown to him. Should the German decide that playing both or even one of the duo would be too great a risk, he might move Jackie McNamara into midfield and restore Maurice Ross at right-back.

Both managers are likely to deploy one out-and-out striker and another forward off the front. Tellingly, Advocaat can pick from Patrick Kluivert, Roy Makaay and Ruud van Nistelrooy - with the Manchester United man favourite to start - whereas Vogts chooses from Stevie Crawford, Paul Dickov and Kenny Miller.

Neil McCann, nominally a winger, may play in the withdrawn role Advocaat gives to Rafael van der Vaart. Paul Scholes scored twice from there for England at Hampden in the 1999 play-off, so the Scots have been forewarned.

Whatever the personnel or formation, Vogts promised they would show the "hunger" that unhinged Germany - "and more". He added: "The boys must play the game of their lives. We're looking for a sensation."

The Dutch, bristling with individuals from big clubs in Italy, Spain, England and Turkey, ought to be able to handle what Vogts predicted would be an "amazing atmosphere". Player for player, they have a palpable advantage in class, which should tell before the tie is completed in the Amsterdam ArenA next Wednesday.

Nevertheless, question marks remain over their togetherness, as well against Advocaat's man-management and selection foibles. Scotland's task is to pounce on signs of doubt and turn them into discord, disarray and defeat, so that the Netherlands depart Mount Florida facing what no one from that flat, low country relishes, namely an uphill task.