By Iain Spragg
The Netherlands may be clear favourites to win their way past Scotland in their UEFA EURO 2004™ play-off, but experienced midfield player Phillip Cocu is taking nothing for granted ahead of Saturday's first leg in Glasgow.
Admittedly, the omens are good for the Dutch. They have a six-game unbeaten streak against their opponents stretching back to 1986, and finished ten points clear of the third-placed team in their qualifying group, Austria, while Scotland only pipped Iceland to a play-off place by a single point. None the less, the FC Barcelona player knows that there is no easy route to Portugal.
"Other people may think it is a foregone conclusion that we will reach the finals, but we certainly do not," Cocu told uefa.com. "
We have a lot of respect for Scotland and their typical British attitude and we know we will be in big trouble if we do not focus for the full 90 minutes in Glasgow. Scotland have got players with real talent."
'Moment of brilliance'
Capped 72 times, Cocu added: "We have not lost to Scotland for a long time but it is easy to forget the last two games have ended as goalless draws, which shows there is not much between the two countries when it comes to the big matches. I am sure the two play-off games will be just as tight and it could be one moment of brilliance or just one mistake that decides things."
Pressure on Cocu
Indeed, there is no shortage of pressure on Cocu's highly rated team-mates. They were pipped by the Republic of Ireland to the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals, and having seen the Czech Republic claim automatic qualification from Group 3, Cocu knows that another failure is barely worth contemplating.
"The feeling in the Netherlands after we missed out on the World Cup was terrible but I think it would even worse this time if we do not get past Scotland," he said. "The expectations of the team are always very high and it would be too much for the fans to accept if we are not involved in Portugal next year. They deserve to see the team in the finals."
Cocu himself is aiming for his fourth major tournament finals with the Netherlands, having played in the last two UEFA European Championships and the 1998 World Cup. However, both that World Cup campaign and UEFA EURO 2000™ ended in semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat.
'Solid and strong'
On Saturday's first leg at Hampden, Cocu believes a cautious approach could be necessary. "Of course, if we can score an away goal in Glasgow that will help our ambitions but we cannot afford to be too adventurous in the first leg," Cocu said. "
We must be solid and strong away from home because we do not want to give Scotland unnecessary encouragement. It is vital we play effectively as a unit so that we return to Amsterdam either in front or level with them.
"Scotland know they need to take advantage of playing at home and I am sure they will try and play a lot of attacking football on Saturday. We must be prepared to get men behind the ball because Scotland will have periods of dominance. The challenge for us is what we can do with the ball when we have possession."
Phillip Cocu's personal website is at www.icons.com
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