Scottish Football: Quietly confident SFA look to 2004

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The Independent Online
Jim Farry, chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, can afford to be confident of a positive outcome to the lobbying of Uefa over plans to host the European Championship in Scotland in 2004.

After all, this week saw the granting of pounds 23m from the Millennium Commission which will be used to transform Hampden Park from its drab state to Scottish football's field of dreams. Work on the national stadium is due for completion in time to host the 1998 European Youth Championship.

Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow now possess the footballing infrastructure in terms of facilities that would be required for a major championship with Hampden Park, Celtic Park and Ibrox capable by the turn of the century of holding 160,000 spectators between them.

Farry, however, would be wise to make sure the SFA do their homework before committing the country to the European Championship. His recent boast that there are 36,203 hotel rooms within 15 miles of Glasgow could ring hollow if, as Rangers discovered to their cost, those rooms are unavailable. The Scottish champions lost out on the chance to host the European Cup- Winners' Cup final because of pre-booked hotel rooms for a major medical conference in the city.

On Saturday, Celtic closed the gap on Rangers at least temporarily with the champions in action at Motherwell on Tuesday night.

A Pierre Van Hooijdonk goal in their 1-0 win over Falkirk took Celtic to within a point of their great rivals and with 13 points now separating Celtic from third-placed Hibernian, there is no longer any doubt that this season's championship battle will be waged between the big two of Scottish football.

Hibs and Aberdeen had their title hopes stalled by home defeats against Raith Rovers and Hearts, respectively. Hibs had taken the lead against Raith through Pat McGinlay, but two second-half goals brought about a reversal of fortune, allowing the Raith players to leave for a trip to Majorca in good spirits.

Similarly, Aberdeen had taken the lead against Hearts with a first-minute strike from Dean Windass, their recent signing from Hull City, but two late goals gave Hearts the points.

Partick Thistle, too, were on the receiving end of a fightback, their early lead through Derek McWilliams nullified and then overtaken courtesy of two goals by Paul Wright, the one-time Queen's Park Rangers striker.