reports from Glasgow
If there is an anticlimactic atmosphere surrounding Scotland's last Group Eight fixture, at home to San Marino tonight, it is not simply because the nation has become distracted by the ifs and buts of Paul Gascoigne's latest brush with authority.
It is also because Scotland, eschewing their historical roles of brinkmanship and gallant failure, have made such an efficient fist of qualifying for the European Championship finals that even an embarrassment worse than those inflicted by Costa Rica or Iran would make no difference.
Under the system used by Uefa to decide which runners-up go through automatically, only results against the other leading countries count. Craig Brown's side, having prised 11 points from Russia, Greece and Finland, already boast a better record than anyone who can finish second in the Republic of Ireland's section. They now need just one of six other results to go their way, regardless of what happens at Hampden Park.
So confident is he of qualification that Brown, a normally cautious manager, yesterday avoided the customary cliches about counting chickens and fat ladies singing. While not exactly embracing bravado either, he expressed his desire to convince Scottish supporters that their team would not be crossing the border next summer to make up the numbers.
"The Republic could only draw in Liechtenstein, yet if they get through I'm sure everyone will assume that they'll do well. So there's no reason for us to feel daunted," Brown said. "I feel we're capable of doing something in England, and the preparation for that starts now."
Brown will not decide on his line-up until later today, but confirmed that Nottingham Forest's Scot Gemmill will replace the injured Stuart McCall in midfield for his fourth cap and first appearance in the arena where his father, Archie, established such a tenacious presence. Aberdeen's Eoin Jess and Scott Booth will play up front, perhaps with a third striker, while Jim Leighton receives the opportunity to complete six games in the group (plus one as substitute) without conceding a goal.
The crowd will expect Scotland to do the scoring against arguably the worst side in Europe. However, San Marino's "tactic" of pulling nine men behind the ball has tested their patience before. The heaviest away defeat suffered by Italy's answer to Edinburgh Castle has been 4-0 in Russia, the same score by which Scotland beat them to clinch a place in the 1992 finals.
Brown would settle for a repeat, but one of his coaching staff will not be there to see how they fare. Frank Coulston, the former Partick Thistle player, has been deputed to assess Austria's performance in Belfast ... just in case a freakish combination of results pits the Scots against them in next month's play-off at Liverpool.Reuse content