Vogts needs result to restore faith

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The Independent Online

How quickly the optimism of autumn has evaporated where the fortunes of Scotland and Berti Vogts are concerned. Just three games ago, the Netherlands were vanquished at a heaving Hampden Park in a Euro 2004 play-off. Tonight, the stadium may be barely a third full for a friendly against Romania in which a third consecutive heavy defeat could test the loyalty of the Scottish FA towards its manager.

How quickly the optimism of autumn has evaporated where the fortunes of Scotland and Berti Vogts are concerned. Just three games ago, the Netherlands were vanquished at a heaving Hampden Park in a Euro 2004 play-off. Tonight, the stadium may be barely a third full for a friendly against Romania in which a third consecutive heavy defeat could test the loyalty of the Scottish FA towards its manager.

The SFA's executive committee stages its monthly meeting on Friday, when a report on the match will be discussed. At the moment, the backing for Vogts within the hierarchy is holding up, but another setback against Romania, followed by a substantial defeat in Denmark on 28 April, would inevitably revive the public disquiet of 18 months ago when Scotland were very nearly humiliated by the Faroe Islands.

Asked whether he was feeling the heat, Vogts replied in the affirmative, yet added that pressure was normal for him. "Don't forget I had eight years in charge of the Germany team," he said. "I'm not a quitter. I must work for Scotland's future. I wasn't happy with our 4-0 defeat by Wales, but you will see a different face of my team against Romania."

Vogts has made his squad watch a video nasty this week, sitting them down before a tape of last month's Welsh débâcle for what he termed a "painful but good lesson". Some players may have felt like schoolboys forced to undertake a detention for misdeeds in which they had no part. Many of those who were on duty in Cardiff, and in the 6-0 second-leg drubbing by the Dutch, are not involved against Romania.

Eight players had pulled out after the weekend's club fixtures and the uncapped Livingston wing-back David McNamee has also now withdrawn with hamstring problems. Pressed about whether this match represented the "last chance" for certain individuals, Vogts said he had felt compelled to "speak strongly" to them about recent displays. Tellingly, however, he admitted he did not have so many players of international quality that he could afford such measures.

Even some of those who have reported for duty are not, it seems, in sufficiently good physical and mental condition to play. Walsall's Paul Ritchie is currently out of his club side because one more appearance would trigger another transfer payment. James McFadden is also out of favour at Everton. According to Vogts, he has lost the confidence which conjured a stunning winner against the Netherlands in November.

The circumstances are not, it would appear, propitious for Scotland to bring to an end a miserable sequence in Hampden friendlies. More than eight years have passed since they won one at the national stadium and remarkably, the Ally McCoist goal that overcome Australia was their last there in non-competitive games. Vogts disapproves of such distinctions. "Maybe the players think 'It's only a friendly', but I tell them it's an international and the second preparation match for our World Cup qualifiers."

Romania, 25 places above Scotland in Fifa's world rankings, will also sit out Euro 2004 and are starting the build-up to a World Cup group which pits them against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. All but four of Anghel Iordanescu's 20-man squad are based abroad, and in Chelsea's Adrian Mutu and the Ajax prodigy Nicolae Mitea, 19 last week, he has a front two superior to any combination Vogts may field.

Like the German, Romania's coach is without key personnel. Four players from Steaua Bucharest, including Dorinel Munteanu, who has 118 caps to his name, will be missing because of a dispute between club and country.

SCOTLAND (4-4-2 probable): Gallacher (Dundee United); Alexander (Preston), Dailly (West Ham), Pressley (Hearts), Kennedy (Celtic); Rae (Dundee), Cameron (Wolves), Hughes (Portsmouth), McCann (Southampton); Miller (Wolves), Crawford (Dunfermline).

ROMANIA (4-4-2): Lobont (Ajax); Stoican (Shakhtar Donetsk), Iencsi (Spartak Moscow), Chivu (Roma), Filipescu (FC Zurich); F Petre (Dinamo Bucharest), Cernat (Dinamo Kiev), Pancu (Besiktas), Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk); Mitea (Ajax), Ganea (Wolves).

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