Scotland limited by low strike rate

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The Independent Online
Craig Brown was initially relieved when Uefa decided to allow each of the Euro 96 finalists a squad of 22 players in June. After the defeats in Denmark this week of both the senior and the B team, the Scotland manager's task looks less like one of being forced to jettison viable candidates than of finding enough players of the requisite quality to fulfil their quota.

Next Thursday, Brown will name Scotland's party for the pre-European Championship trip to the United States in May. The same players will take part in the finals, barring injuries, although their Atlantic crossing may be undertaken less hopefully than would have been the case had they not chosen to challenge the champions on their own turf.

Since the Danes beat them 2-0, following a 3-0 romp in the B international the previous night, the gamble could be said to have backfired. At least now, however, Scotland are under no illusions about what they might achieve. They also have some six weeks, and games against the US at New Britain and Colombia in Miami, to work on the failings exposed in Copenhagen.

If Brown were a club manager, he would be checking this morning how much money was available for spending on a goalscorer. Scotland used no fewer than nine forwards in the two matches, yet with the exception of one Kevin Gallacher drive that Peter Schmeichel saved athletically, the main threat to the Danish goal was posed by the long-range shooting of Gary McAllister in the second half.

Denmark's victory, inspired by Michael and Brian Laudrup, was already secure, each brother having scored in the first half-hour. McAllister, the only outfield Scot of comparable class, admitted they had failed to cope with the Laudrups. "They did their best work when we were attacking by drifting into space. We must learn to cope with that, because that's how the best sides play."

Given that Brown had billed the fixture as a yardstick of how they might handle the stylistically similar Netherlands in Birmingham on 10 June, the way Scotland's revamped defence seemed mesmerised by the Danes' ability to break from deep positions was ominous. Alan McLaren, who is to have knee surgery on 20 May, looks likely to miss the finals, which will increase the pressure on the manager to restore Richard Gough alongside Colin Hendry.

Even the redoubtable Rangers captain would have struggled to contain Michael Laudrup, who at times looked like Cruyff and Maradona rolled into one. His virtuosity made the Parken Stadium glow like the Tivoli gardens even before the lights came on, so it was as well that Jim Leighton again belied his 37 years with several stunning saves. Andy Goram, with less to do, was equally assured after taking over.

Nevertheless, it is the Scots' shortcomings in the opposite goalmouth which nagged at Brown as he flew out to a coaches' convention in Prague yesterday. John Spencer, Gallacher, Ally McCoist and the back-in-favour Gordon Durie are probably assured of their places. Scott Booth, whose five goals in 10 caps made him first-choice striker before injury, will be under intense scrutiny in Aberdeen's game at Rangers on Sunday.

"We're a team of limited ability," Brown said in a stark summary, "so we have to defend well and take the chances that come along." As for Denmark, he added: "They won't easily give up their trophy. I think they'll be in contention again."

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