Vogts certain Scotland will prove critics wrong

European Championship: German coach confident that crucial Hampden Park showdown against his homeland will not prove one-way traffic
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The Independent Online

Friendship will be forgotten for at least 90 minutes today as Berti Vogts and Rudi Völler, mentor and student since the far-off days when the former gave the latter his first Under-21 cap, seek to edge Scotland and Germany respectively closer to next year's European Championship finals. According to Vogts, Völler has already fired the first shots in the psychological war.

In an ominous show of confidence, Germany's coach named his starting XI for Hampden Park as early as Tuesday. Yesterday, however, Vogts insisted the apprentice was trying to out-scheme the sorcerer. "Rudi and I know each other very well," the Scotland manager said. "He's given 11 names but I think only 10 are right. He's waiting to see my reaction."

Vogts anticipates that Tobias Rau, the Bayern Munich-bound midfielder who scored in last Saturday's 4-1 defeat of Canada, will give way to the more experienced Marco Rehme. Was it a trick he had taught Völler? "It wasn't a bad one." Has it worked? "No."

If ever a setting was replete with symbolism, it was the shadow of Dumbarton Rock where Vogts faced his critics from two countries in a bowling-club pavilion. Talk about a rock and a hard place: many German journalists still deride him over his eight years at the helm of the national team even though during that time Germany won Euro '96 and lost just 12 of 102 matches. "I don't know why," he said. "They have to fill up their papers."

Scotland have already lost nine out of 14 during the 16 months since Vogts succeeded Craig Brown, prompting some opinion-leaders to call for his dismissal. Even if the Scottish Football Association shared their view - and the chief executive David Taylor has repeatedly said Vogts is a long-term appointment - the cost of paying up a contract worth £500,000 a year until 2006 would be prohibitive.

So Der Terrier could silence both sets of carpers by upsetting the World Cup finalists and Group Five leaders, and he claimed to be "confident" of winning. Establishing the grounds for his optimism is easier said than done. True, the friendly matches in which Scotland have performed so poorly were for experimentation.

Yet the competitive fixtures offer scant encouragement either, Scotland having scraped a dishonourable draw in the Faroe Islands and lost in Lithuania during this campaign. In addition to these results, Vogts has compounded the doubts with his tendency to play people out of position and his patchy communication skills.

Getting his game plan across today will be crucial. Whatever the quality of Völler's team - several German pundits rated it among the nation's weakest following a home draw with Lithuania and narrow win over the Faroes - it will be surprising if they are not as tactically adept as they are technically superior. The spine of the side looks conspicuously stronger than Scotland's.

If Vogts is to be believed any more than Völler, Christian Dailly will track Michael Ballack, who is expected to play despite missing training yesterday with a calf strain. Paul Lambert will anchor midfield, leaving Colin Cameron, to whose talents Vogts has undergone a Damascene conversion, to make his forward runs. In the absence of the injured James McFadden, the Motherwell enigma, Paul Devlin may be the only wide attacker.

Devlin will be expected to provide crosses for a strikeforce likely to comprise Stevie Crawford and Kenny Miller. Don Hutchison's withdrawal and Kevin Kyle's rawness mean Scotland have abandoned plans to play off a target man and will trust in pace and mobility up front. Germany's aerial weakness was exposed at Wolfsburg by a goal from Hearts' Kevin McKenna for Canada, so Rangers' Steven Thompson should appear at some point.

A full house at Hampden, described by Vogts as giving Scotland "a 12-against-11 advantage", should help to ensure that they start at the desired high tempo. Were they to score first, their fragile confidence would soar. Germany's resilience would be tested, especially if Ballack's fitness fails him. On his day, the Bayern Munich playmaker is, in Vogts' view, "Europe's best midfielder".

Ballack is another with a supposed grudge against Vogts from their time together at Bayer Leverkusen. Asked whether that upset him, the Scotland manager recalled that he first brought him into the Germany squad at 19. Was he concerned that such a key player might want to do particularly well against him? "Michael was motivated against Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final, and I wasn't their coach."

Try as he may, Vogts has been unable to prevent the build-up to the match focusing on him. It has not all been antipathy. Many Germans, he revealed, had written to say they had "fingers crossed" for Scotland. "I don't know why. Maybe I'm not a bad guy."

Vogts has stressed his liking for Scotch, for Loch Ness and its murky resident, and for all things tartan. Surely, though, there would be mixed emotions when the band pumps out "Deutschland Uber Alles"? "Germany is my homeland. I played for the national team for 11 years and worked for the FA there for 23. But at kick-off time I will feel very Scottish. I'll be thinking only of what is best for my new nation."

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