Scots fly back and think of England

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The Independent Online
Midnight in Moscow and the Scotland party are too busy dissecting the 0-0 draw with Russia to notice the exotic destinations listed above their airport departure gate. "San Francisco, Ulan Bator, Anchorage, Sofia," it promises, while their minds are on places like Anfield, Elland Road, Villa Park and, for the real optimists, Wembley.

Scottish anxiety not to miss out on the European Championship finals is, if anything, more intense than that of their qualifying rivals, an anomaly explained by the age-old enmity with next year's hosts and the void left by the suspension of hostilities with England. Since defeat by Russia might have left all but the most die-hard fans booking their holidays in 1996 for the duration of the tournament, spirits were high on the return to Glasgow.

Craig Brown gave his troops a stark choice before they stepped into the Luzhniki Stadium. "I asked if they wanted to watch the finals on TV, or be there themselves," he said. "I think they gave their answer."

Reversing normal practice, he handed out the caps before the match, a psychological ploy which certainly produced the desired effect in Colin Calderwood. "He was quite emotional and fired up," Brown said of the defender's debut display in a rearguard action superbly marshalled by Colin Hendry.

Conventional wisdom had viewed Russia as certain qualifiers from Group Eight, with Scotland and Greece vying for the other spot. The Scots' two draws with the favourites have prompted a re-appraisal by Brown. "Had Russia beaten us, as many people thought they would, you'd have assumed they'd beat everybody and that we'd be battling for second place. Now it may be possible for Finland to get a result against Russia and open up the whole group. We're right in the frame to compete for both first or second place."

Assuming they win in San Marino and the Faroe Islands, Scotland, currently lying third, would be in the enviable position of finishing with three home matches. It does not take a genius to work out how much could be riding on Greece's visit.

Yet while cautioning against over-confidence, Brown was entitled to feel a sense of vindication. Jim Leighton repaid his faith by looking the technically excellent goalkeeper he was before his humiliation at Manchester United. Hendry is starting to translate his commanding club form to the international stage, while Paul McStay, enduring a patchy season, passed and pressed as well as any midfielder on the pitch.

Scotland's mediocrity in attack may still preclude progress. In view of Scotland's long list of injured strikers, this nagging doubt should not be allowed to deflate the Moscow feelgood factor.

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