Collins' nerve steers Scotland into play-offs

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The Independent Online

SO THIS time there was no self-fulfilling prophesy. Scotland, instead, opted for the pragmatic rather than the dramatic as they claimed a place in the play-offs for the European Championship finals at Ibrox last night.

SO THIS time there was no self-fulfilling prophesy. Scotland, instead, opted for the pragmatic rather than the dramatic as they claimed a place in the play-offs for the European Championship finals at Ibrox last night.

A clinical first-half penalty from John Collins ensured that Craig Brown's team managed to avoid needing another bite at the cherry on Saturday and earned the three points which secured second place in Group Nine. However, they did induce a mild sweat among the Ibrox crowd in the dying stages, particularly when Elvir Baljic smacked the crossbar just six minutes from the end.

But it was a night for Scotland when their positive attitude paid off. What fuelled the optimism for the Scots was the 2-1 victory when the countries met in Sarajevo. The Bosnian coach, Faruk Hadzibegic, had made seven changes from that side, welcoming back Baljic, who cost Real Madrid £10m during the summer.

While the Bosnian names may have changed, Scotland's front two, Billy Dodds and Kevin Gallacher, could testify that the method was the same: the pair endured punishing tackles from behind from the suffocating markers, Faruk Hujdorovic and Sergej Barbarez.

Brown had warned the public beforehand that although Bosnia had yet to gain a reputation, the pedigree of the players themselves was beyond repute. Apart from Baljic, two played for Borussia Dortmund, and two for Croatia Zagreb against Manchester United, in the Champions' League a few weeks ago, while the captain, Elvir Bolic, had even once struck a winning goal at Old Trafford for Fenerbahce.

One of those Croatia Zagreb players, Edin Mucjin, fed a lovely pass to Bakir Besirevic after just nine minutes but the full-back's shot struck the side-netting. Seven minutes later, Baljic showed his cleverness and Christian Dailly's naivety by nudging the Scotland defender off the ball and striking a fierce shot from 25 yards, but Neil Sullivan read its flight well. Baljic was given more space on the edge of the box and it took the efforts of Callum Davidson and Colin Hendry to block the danger, though Hendry then required treatment.

Scotland, however, had taken heed of the warning and put some clear blue water between the sides in the 25th minute when David Hopkin earned a penalty. The Leeds United player did not seem to be the victim of a mugging as he was picked out by Craig Burley's cross, but the referee, Leif Sundell, was convinced Barbarez had been responsible for the striker's eye-catching fall and pointed to the spot.

Collins, whose cool head was good enough in the opening game of the World Cup finals in 1998 against Brazil, displayed his poise yet again, rolling his left-foot shot just inside Adnan Guso's post. With the Scots pumped up, Burley then attempted a spectacular volley but the ball flew high over the bar.Hendry made way just before half-time to be replaced by Colin Calderwood, and in his absence, Baljic came close with a header. However, if Scotland were in possession of a lead it was anything but a comfort zone as the second half wore on.

Indeed, the crowd became restless as Brown's team showed little invention in trying to break the Bosnians down, while the visitors easily penetrated and sent ripples of anxiety around Ibrox. Had Baljic not shown a selfish streak when fed with the ball inside the box in the 63rd minute, and found Bolic, lurking close by, then Burley would never have been able to snuff out the danger. The look the experienced Bolic gave his young partner said it all.

Hopkin came within inches of removing any doubts in the 76th minute, but his raking shot, after Burley's free-kick had been charged down, slid just inches past Guso's post.

Brown admitted afterwards that his side had been fortuitous. "I felt there was not enough supply from the midfield and I was a bit annoyed at half-time. I felt we had our share of luck tonight. I thought it was a soft penalty but I never complain when decisions go against us," he said. Brown will now be hoping the draw for the play-offs next Wednesday also goes Scotland's way.

SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Sullivan (Wimbledon); Weir (Everton), Hendry (Rangers), Dailly (Blackburn Rovers); Hopkin (Leeds United), Lambert (Celtic), Burley (Celtic), Collins (Everton), Davidson (Blackburn Rovers); Dodds (Dundee United), Gallacher (Newcastle United). Substitutes: Calderwood (Aston Villa) for Hendry, 36; Burchill (Celtic) for Gallacher, 79; McSwegan (Hearts) for Dodds, 89.

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (3-5-2): Guso (Erzerumspor); Varesanovic (Bursapor), Barbarez (Borussia Dortmund) Hujdorovic (Ried); Besirevic (Osijek), Kapetanovic (Borussia Dortmund), Ihtijarevic (Sarajevo), Sabic (Croatia Zagreb), Mujcin (Croatia Zagreb); Bolic (Fenerbahce), Baljic (Real Madrid). Substitutes: Topic (Monza) for Ihtijarevic, 76; Avdic (Denderen) for Mujcin, 84.Referee: Leif Sundell (Sweden).

GROUP NINEP W D L F A PtsCz Rep (Q) 9 9 0 0 24 5 27Scotland 9 4 3 2 12 10 15Estonia 9 3 2 4 14 13 11Lithuania 9 3 2 4 8 13 11Bosnia 9 2 2 5 10 16 8Faroe Is 9 0 3 6 4 15 3Remaining fixtures: Saturday: Estonia v Bosnia; Czech Republic v Faroe Islands; Scotland v Lithuania.

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