Rangers 3 Hearts 5 IT was enough to put a smile back on the face of Johan Cruyff, David Taylor, and any other harbinger of the doom and gloom that surrounds Scottish football or the general, uninspiring state of the once beautiful game.

Hearts beat Rangers to lift the Scottish Youth Cup in a match that the Ibrox club's big boys and their opponents, Aberdeen, will be hard-pushed to equal in terms of excitement, drama, competitiveness, and even skill when they grace the same Hampden Park turf this weekend.

However, as Rangers coach John Brown indicated before kick-off, its importance lay far beyond a mere 90 minutes, a scoreline, victory for either team, and the 3000 who turned up to watch.

Of course, we have been here before, a narrow defeat in the final by a suspiciously more mature Saudi Arabia when Scotland hosted the World Youth Cup in 1989 proving to be a false dawn as few went on to anything resembling greatness. Yet, there was something about Saturday to suggest that the talent so much on show by these under-18s was being tapped not so much by the luck largely relied upon in the past, but by something resembling a production line.

Hearts' two youth cup-winning line-ups during the 90s harboured Grant Murray, Paul Ritchie, Gary Locke, and Scott Severin, all of whom have earned regular first-team recognition, while Rangers' two sets of gold medallists contained the likes of Greg Shields, Charlie Miller, Craig Moore, Scott Wilson, Steven Boyack, Iain Nicholson and, most notable, Scotland regular Barry Ferguson.

While missing out on Saturday's silverware, Rangers had the most brightly shining jewels of talent. Whether or not their blond locks are as natural as their as yet lanky-legged skill, Stephen Hughes (who made life difficult for marker Steven Reilly) and Iain Russell stood out as they controlled the midfield like twin Mikhailichenkos.

Hughes, who recently made his first-team debut, is like the Alexei that many Rangers fans wanted to see, but so rarely were allowed, spraying accurate passes from the centre, while Russell is the Mikhailichenko manager Walter Smith tried in vain to impose, swinging in good crosses and foxing defences by late runs into the box.

Those two plus Stephen Dobbie, a dangerous striker who, even down to the angular haircut, appears to have modelled himself on Michael Mols, Ryan McCann, of crew-cut and arrogant Ian Durrant poise, and Andrew Dowie, a central defender with Amoruso-style taped ankles, were not the only symptoms of influence from the first-team. Their fluid, passing style had manager Dick Advocaat written all over it.

His compatriot, Dutch legend Cruyff, recently bemoaned the death of the two-footed player and suggested the end of street football had produced footballers bereft of vision. The elusive Russell and Hughes must, then, have spent a fair amount of time dodging traffic on the M8 and even Hearts, despite coach John McGlynn's admission that the calibre of their play had been hampered by nerves and the superior quality of the opposition, never resorted to the traditional long-ball approach.

Three times they took the lead, through two superb long-range drives from Neil Janczyk and an opportunist goal from striker Alan McIlroy. Three times Rangers fought back, a clinical finish from Dobbie and two penalties from strike partner Paul McHale, before Hearts' greater strength and determination won the day in the final three minutes via a spot kick by captain Darren Goldie and striker Ryan Davidson's head.

With five goals from five attempts on target, Hearts had added the Youth Cup to the Under-21 League, and McGlynn, like Brown, rightly sees the prospect of several of his proteges going on to challenge the dominance of foreign imports in his first-team.

Dedicated football academies are now on stream, so this is surely only the beginning and watching Scotland coach Craig Brown must have taken heart that he and his successor will soon have a greater pool of exciting talent from which to create a team capable of ending taunts by the likes of SFA chief executive Taylor that the national team are boring.