I can't help feeling that both British teams started Euro 96 at 100mph, while the Dutch and others have felt their way in
Wednesday 12 June 1996
A flagging Paul Gascoigne unable to exert any influence after the break will be a tonic to the Scots. They have witnessed at first hand this season the havoc he can wreak on the field. England need Gazza, but anyone who has watched him perform brilliantly for Rangers this year might have spotted his weakness. His game is built on an all-action, nervous energy, which is impossible to sustain for more than 60 games a season with the rigours of a European Championship piled on top.
Terry Venables has to ask himself: can he afford to bank on the former Spurs playmaker being capable of controlling whole games between now and the end of the tournament?
The question on everyone else's lips on Saturday involved another Tottenham man. Why did Darren Anderton stay on the field against the Swiss when Steve McManaman, obviously having a far better game, was substituted? Anderton will play a big part in the medium and long term, but on Saturday he looked like a player coming back from injury. His timing was a fraction of a second out and his spatial awareness not yet back to its peak. These are crucial areas for this type of player; that is why he was robbed of the ball on occasions when he would normally have no trouble.
Taking off the Liverpool player was a shock. Kevin Keegan, commentating on ITV, could only guess that Venables was resting McManaman. When you are playing wide, managing to isolate the full-back, and you know you have the beating of him, you are in heaven. You know, and the defender knows, that, as the game wears on, his tackles will get lazier and more rash. Success is just a matter of time. Unless he was injured or had indicated exhaustion to the manager, he will have come off bewildered and not a little miffed.
On Monday morning the Scotland team will have tucked into their porridge in a positive frame of mind. England had not been inspiring and it also looked like the best time in years to take on the Dutch. Their captain, Danny Blind, was suspended, Patrick Kluivert not fully fit, and both Frank de Boer and Marc Overmars injured and out of the squad. On top of this, most of the team came from Ajax, who looked jaded by their standards in their last games. Their long injury list bore testimony to this.
Craig Brown began to look more relaxed and the feeling in the camp was almost certainly: "Hey, wait a minute, we've got a wee chance here." Both Dennis Bergkamp and the coach, Guus Hiddink, confessed to being wary of the Scots' passion, and this was probably just the spur the lads needed.
Brown kept the ball rolling by picking a team with three recognised forwards in Gordon Durie, Scott Booth and Kevin Gallacher. This surprised everyone but it was not as adventurous as it sounds, with at any time two of the three dropping back to make a five-man midfield.
If ever a game went to plan, this was it. There will be a little glow around Craig Brown just now, as he knows his tactics proved to be perfect. Scotland took the punches on the ropes, but ducked and dived and rode their luck enough to avoid a knock-out. They even managed a few decent jabs of their own, but at what price for the next bout?
The Scottish pressing game was exhausting, especially for the midfielders and forwards, thanklessly chasing lost causes. Gary McAllister played right-back, left-wing and everything in between. John Collins and Stuart McCall tackled relentlessly, while Durie will probably need oxygen for the next couple of days, There is some comfort in that England's best did not exactly look sprightly in their second half.
The Scottish terrier style will also be costly in yellow cards. This is concerning when there is scarcely a player in the starting XI they can do without. I can't help feeling that both British teams started the competition at 100mph, while the Dutch and others have felt their way in. Immediately after the Scotland game we watched France v Romania, it was slower and more measured, indeed it looked dull in comparison.
The only way Scotland can survive is at full throttle all the way. Granted, Continental sides are at the end of their seasons too, but none will have played as many fast and physical games as we have in the last nine months. This does not bode well for our chances in this tournament, or indeed any other. In the meantime, though, Scottish passion may continue to grind out results.
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