Scotland wait in the wilderness

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The Independent Online
Billy Dodds kicked Scotland into limbo on Wednesday with his pass to John Collins in the shortest match the national team has ever played. As the only pass in the three-second match was delivered, Estonia's players were having lunch 60 miles away.

The result of Fifa's investigation into the episode will be announced on 7 November, just three days before Scotland are due to play Sweden at Ibrox. Three days for Scotland to head Group Four if they are awarded the points, or to contemplate a replay if they are not. Meanwhile, their captain, Gary McAllister, has to wait until then before knowing if he is deemed to have served his one-match ban.

On his return from the Baltic tour which produced a 2-0 win over Latvia as well as the chaos in Tallinn, the Scottish manager, Craig Brown, stood firmly behind his decision to ask for a review of the floodlighting, which started the bizarre chain of events. "We would have badly let down the players and supporters if we had accepted inferior conditions," he said. "We left the matter in the hands of the man from Fifa but if we had been instructed to do so we would have played at the original kick-off time. We are respectful and knowledgeable enough to know you don't mess about with Fifa."

Amid the rubble and confusion of broken communications and relationships, Estonia would appear to be the ones who are taking on the bureaucrats. On their arrival at the stadium at 1pm for the rearranged kick-off time of 3pm the Scottish party were met by the president, vice- president and general secretary of the Estonian Football Association, fuelling the suspicion that Titur Thordarsson, the Icelandic coach, had decided not to comply with either Fifa or his own association. It seems unlikely that such high- ranking officials would be at the ground more than six hours before the original kick-off time of 6.45pm if they knew their team would boycott the early start.

With the thousand-odd Scottish supporters taking the farce in good heart, it was the players who were the hardest hit. Dodds and Jackie McNamara were denied the pleasure of starting their first international match while Collins was captain for just three seconds. "I was very disappointed because it is a great experience to captain your country and we had been through the whole build-up, four days of preparation, with nothing at the end of it," he said.

Darren Jackson, the Hibs striker, was equally despondent as he had scored his first international goal against Latvia. "We are all disappointed because we prepared for two games and having won the first we were ready for this one," he said. "Having scored against Latvia I was hoping for a good performance and perhaps another goal with the game against Sweden next month."

The embarrassing episode deflected attention from Scotland's win in Latvia and Sweden's defeat by Austria, two results which have increased Scottish optimism that they can qualify for France in 1998. "We will simply ignore Fifa's deliberations in the meantime and make our preparations for the Sweden game," Brown said. "If we can beat Sweden and Austria at home it would mean we could afford to lose in Sweden without them coming back at us.

"Belarus can still have a say in this group because they are a better side than Latvia. But we will meet the next challenge when it comes because that's football."

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