By Roddy Forsyth
If Scotland fans are angry at their unprecedented slump down the FIFA world rankings - the Scots are now rated 63rd after dropping 13 places since last December - then their team should be, too.
According to assistant manager Tommy Burns, however, anger is the very commodity which was in short supply when Scotland fell 2-0 behind to the Faroe Islands in their opening EURO 2004™ qualifier in Group 5 - a section which also includes Germany, Lithuania and Iceland.
As the half-time scoreline from the Toftír Stadium raised eyebrows across Europe, two Scotland players - the Celtic FC captain, Paul Lambert, and his Rangers FC counterpart, Barry Ferguson - railed furiously at their team-mates in the dressing room. The result? A recovery which, if it still amounted to major embarrassment for the Scots, at least salvaged a point against one of the world's smallest football nations.
A bit of fire will be needed again before this Saturday's encounter with Iceland in Reykjavik, according to Burns. "When the squad met up for the game against the Faroes we stressed to them on the Monday night that they had to go out as an angry team," he said. "If I had been a player I would have been saying to myself, 'What kind of criticism will we get if we lose?'
"We began by getting the ball behind the Faroese defenders, as planned, but then they went up the park twice and scored. That can happen in football and in this case the younger players got caught up in the atmosphere - they needed the older players to help them - and the game plan went out of the window.
"At half-time Paul Lambert and Barry Ferguson were raging but once everybody calmed down we said, 'Well, we told you this last Monday. If you're going to go in against big men who are up for a tough game you have to be ready for that and deal with it before you get the ball down and pass it'. That's the attitude they'll need from the start against Iceland, who have players who are used to playing in good leagues. If we can get our first victory it will take the pressure off the players."
Scotland manager Berti Vogts is still waiting to see whether Ferguson, the main playmaker, will be fit to play. Ferguson required an injection before Sunday's Glasgow derby against Celtic, and will be monitored by the team doctors until kick-off on Saturday. However, Vogts's more anxious wait is for his first victory as Scotland coach following five defeats and a draw.
Iceland coach Atli Edvaldsson is missing Lillestrøm SK striker Rikhardur Dadason for the visit of the Scots, although he has been able to welcome back two English-based players in Stoke City FC's Bjarni Gudjonsson and Heidar Helguson of Watford FC. Iceland won three of their five home matches in their FIFA World Cup qualifiers but have had mixed fortunes at home since, following a 3-0 victory over Andorra in August with a 2-0 defeat by Hungary last month.
Lithuania host the Faroes in Saturday's other Group 5 match. Coach Benjaminas Velkevicius's preparations have not been helped by injuries to striker Edgaras Jankauskas and defender Deividas Semberas, which have led to call-ups for Tomas Radzinevicius and Giedrius Slavickas. Despite this, assistant coach Gintas Buzas has targeted "four points" out of Saturday's match and next Wednesday's visit to Iceland. He is not the only one desperate for points, as Vogts would doubtless acknowledge.
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