Scotland 1 Sweden 0
They came from Monaco and Florence, Brussels and Rome to strut their stuff in Glasgow yesterday. But the World Cup is a great leveller, to adapt an old cliche, and it was a journeyman striker from Bolton who upstaged the high rollers of Serie A and Bundesliga on a tumultuous afternoon at Ibrox.
John McGinlay, the 32-year-old Highlander who paid his dues playing for the likes of Elgin City and Yeovil Town, scored the early goal which took Scotland to the top of Group Four on goal difference. When he was substituted as Craig Brown looked for fresh legs to repel almost incessant pressure by Sweden, he left the pitch to the sort of ovation no other Celtic supporter can ever have received on Rangers territory.
Even McGinlay would have to admit, however, that the player to whom Scotland were most indebted for a vital victory was Jim Leighton. On his previous two visits to Govan, with Hibernian, Scotland's second-choice goalkeeper had been beaten 11 times. On this occasion, Leighton made a succession of brave and agile saves to belie his 38 years and leave the Swedes shaking their heads in frustration.
His 37th clean sheet in 75 caps means that the Scots, or more pertinently Leighton and Andy Goram, have conceded a miserly five goals in their last 17 competitive fixtures; so much for the old stereotype about Scottish keepers. There were backs-to-the-wall performances, too, from Colin Hendry and his fellow defenders, but the barrage of sound which greeted the final whistle owed as much to relief as rejoicing.
For the vast majority of the near-47,000 crowd, Scotland's win, no matter how it was achieved, was a cause for celebration. Brown was less easily pleased, pronouncing himself "disappointed for the fans" because his side had shown hardly anything in the way of attacking threat.
"In the long term we can't keep serving that up," the Scotland manager said bluntly. "It wasn't good enough."
This was honesty beyond the call of duty, for as Brown went on to say, there were mitigating circumstances. Not least among them was the absence of his captain, the suspended Gary McAllister, and another midfield regular, Stuart McCall. By contrast, Sweden were virtually at full strength, and included all but a handful of the players who earned third place in the United States two years ago.
The undercurrent of animosity predicted in the wake of Lennart Johansson's perceived role in McAllister's indisposition never materialised. The Swedish anthem was boorishly booed, yet it was Scotland who appeared to be more fired up in the initial exchanges.
Sweden's tendency to play square at the back betrayed them when Scotland scored after a move characterised by a precision they were singularly unable to recreate in the 82 minutes which followed. Tom Boyd's long pass was dummied by the selfless Darren Jackson, allowing McGinlay to steal ahead of the only Rangers man in either starting line-up, Joachim Bjorklund.
McGinlay, who has scored 13 times for his club this season, managed to hold off the defender before calmly angling his fourth goal in 11 appearances for his country beyond Thomas Ravelli from 12 yards.
Sweden soon lost Martin Dahlin to injury, though that merely left Hendry the thankless task of subduing the even taller Kennet Andersson in a battle of blond ambition. Swarms of Swedes bore down on Leighton's area, and on another day Kennet Andersson might have gone in at half-time with a hat-trick. Hendry, living up to his new nickname of "Captain Block", thwarted him the first time, though he was a spectator as two headers and a thunderous free kick flashed inches wide.
In the second half, Brown introduced a second midfield anchor man, Paul Lambert, to try to quell the yellow peril. To no avail: with Jesper Blomqvist increasingly slippery on the Swedish left, a plethora of chances and half- chances had the Scots living on their nerves as they defended ever deeper.
Fortunately for them, Leighton, whose confidence was shredded after Alex Ferguson dropped him from Manchester United's FA Cup replay side in 1990, was in unflappable form.
It will be harder still when Brown takes his troops to Gothenburg next April. But after the darkness of Tallin, Scotland can see a chink of light at the end of the tunnel which leads to France 98.
Goal: McGinlay (8) 1-0.
SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Leighton (Hibernian); Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyd (Celtic); McNamara (Celtic), Burley (Chelsea), W McKinlay (Blackburn), Collins (Monaco), T McKinlay (Celtic); McGinlay (Bolton), D Jackson (Hibernian). Substitutes: Lambert (Borussia Dortmund) for McNamara, -/t; Gallacher (Blackburn) for Jackson, 78; McCoist (Rangers) for McGinlay, 85.
SWEDEN (4-5-1): Ravelli (IFK Gothenburg); Nilsson (Helsingborg), P Andersson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Bjorklund (Rangers), Sundgren (AIK Stockholm); Alexandersson (IFK Gothenburg), Schwarz (Fiorentina), Thern (Roma), Zetterberg (Anderlecht), Blomqvist (IFK Gothenburg); Dahlin (Borussia Monchengladbach). Substitutes: K Andersson (Bologna) for Dahlin 17; Larsson (Feyenoord) for Alexandersson, 69; A Andersson (IFK Gothenburg) for Zetterberg, 77.
Referee: J Garcia Aranda (Spain). Booking: Scotland: Calderwood.
Man of the match: Leighton. Attendance: 46,738.
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