Scotland make their point in style

EURO 96: Collins and McAllister take the midfield honours as Group A outsiders achieve parity with the Dutch PHIL SHAW reports from Villa Park Netherlands 0 Scotland 0
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Collective responsibility of a more wholesome variety brought Scotland, 80-1 outsiders to win Euro 96, a deserved point in their opening Group A fixture against the Netherlands, the 11-2 second favourites, in the Villa Park sunshine yesterday.

The Dutch paraded their world-ranked stars, the highrollers from Ajax and Italy. Against that, Scotland presented not only the anticipated resilience, spirit and organisation, but no little ability either. John Collins, largely unknown to English audiences, epitomised both traits, working tirelessly for the cause while seldom looking inferior to either Edgar Davids or Clarence Seedorf in possession.

Invidious as it may seem to single out individuals after an afternoon of exemplary defensive solidarity, Scotland were also indebted to Andy Goram for what must rank as the save of the tournament in the early stages. Had he not made it, they would have been chasing the game. As it was, the Dutch performed only fitfully, even after the late introduction of Patrick Kluivert, leaving the question of qualification wide open.

The tartan hordes certainly left believing that their team could make the second phase of a major finals for the first time, although they had more pressing matters in mind. "We are going to celebrate," they roared, followed by: "Bring on the English!"

Gary McAllister, the Scotland captain, suggested beforehand that they would draw strength - "like Wimbledon" - from being written off. In the eveny there was another, more surprising similarity with the Premiership's least-loved team. For the first time in his three years as manager, Craig Brown switched from a 3-5-2 formation to a "British" 4-4-2.

Brown clearly reasoned that by deploying Stewart McKimmie and Tom Boyd as orthodox full-backs, Scotland would be better able to counter the wide attacking threat of Gaston Taument and Jordi Cruyff. Only in the opening period, when the Dutch had them pinned back and McAllister appeared to be shadowing Davids, did the logic look negative and flawed.

As early as the sixth minute, Brown's preference for Goram over Jim Leighton was vindicated. Dennis Bergkamp, breaking on to Cruyff's pass down the Dutch left, reached the byline before cutting the ball back. Seedorf, eight yards out, made a powerful connection, only to be denied by a breathtaking one-handed save. The danger had still not passed. Taument followed up, also at close range, his shot being deflected over. From the corner, the Netherlands appealed in vain for a penalty as Collins appeared to handle on the line.

Having survived those alarms, Scotland grew in confidence. The Collins- McAllister axis grew in influence, with the Monaco-bound Celt by no means the junior partner. However, it was symptomatic of the Scots' lack of firepower that Edwin van der Sar's most testing moments were provided by shots from the two midfielders.

It will not have escaped Terry Venables' spies in the stand that Van der Sar twice punched when he ought to have caught, notably from Collins' 14th-minute drive. A free-kick by McAllister that was bound for the top- right corner allowed the keeper to redeem himself. The Scotland captain also probed deep into Dutch territory after a one-two with Boyd, though his shot lacked the pace to beat Van der Sar's dive. The Dutch supporters were briefly silenced.

Bergkamp, for once escaping Colin Calderwood, restored the decibel levels as he sprinted on to Davids' through pass. The Arsenal man rounded Goram, but found that the Scotland keeper had made the angle too difficult.

In the ensuing scramble, Bergkamp toppled under Calderwood's challenge. But Scotland's otherwise disciplined showing meant they deserved their good fortune, and they endured fewer scares in an altogether less open second half.

On one occasion, Seedorf's downward header reared over the bar after a move he had initiated in his own half. Then, with 10 minutes remaining, Aron Winter's header was cleared from under the bar by Colin Hendry. It was the prelude to Dutch pressure reminiscent of their opening flurry, but Scotland held firm. They go to Wembley on Saturday with a historic breakthrough still very much on the agenda.