Scotland's under-stated, under-rated national team swept through to the Finals of the World Cup with this victory over Latvia and with a little help from Spain, whose win over the Faroe Islands made sure that manager Craig Brown and his players would be in France next summer.

No doubt Brown celebrated on Saturday night when the news from Gijon arrived, but it would have been in the same muted manner that his men have gone about their business on the various playing fields around Europe they have had to visit in this latest successful campaign. This is not a Scotland side with the swaggering abandon of some of those in the past. But, then neither does it possess the capacity for self-destruction which scarred those which have gone before.

There is a professionalism about Brown's men and while some may still criticise them for a lack of flair, and an approach to the game which is essentially cautious, the manager can point to the results he has achieved and the fact that he has now guided Scotland to the final stages of two major tournaments. Not only that, he is the first Scotland manager to qualify for the World Cup immediately on the heels of playing in the European Championship Finals. It is a double success which places Brown in football's history books.

At Celtic Park he stood on the touchline at the end of the game as waves of emotion engulfed the ground and the Tartan Army kicked off their celebrations, accepting the congratulations from his players and his backroom colleagues but showing little of the elation he must have been feeling.

For there is no doubt Brown's fingerprints are on this team. They play the football he believes in and afterwards he made that point as if in explanation to some of the crowd who briefly jeered the team in the second half as they patiently held possession.

Said Brown: ''We got this result by playing football, and by playing it from the back. That was the game plan. There was no way we wanted to launch balls forward from defence, especially when you saw the formidable men they had at the back. All that would have meant was losing possession and you cannot afford to do that in international football.''

Brown, of course, is right. He was right, too, in his selection. While there had been pre-match lobbying for Celtic's in-form Simon Donnelly, the Scotland manager decided to go with the men who had worked well together against Belarus at Pittodrie.

His reward was to have the two best players on the field in Kevin Gallacher and Gordon Durie. Keeping faith with Durie, who has not been a Rangers regular this season, was a trump card for Brown. He was repaid by the player's best-ever performance for his country and with a second goal nine minutes from the end which ended the nervousness which was just beginning to spread around the stands.

The partnership up front, with Gallacher scoring the other goal just before half-time, produced probably the hardest working display I have seen from two Scotland strikers.

There were others, too, who deserve mention and Brown stressed the efforts of his captain Gary McAllister, his fellow midfielder John Collins, and Colin Hendry, whom he described as ''immense.'' As well as those obvious candidates, I felt Colin Calderwood, out of the Spurs side, and another player Brown stood by, was calm and confident in everything he was asked to do.

The defence was scarcely over-worked but there were those occasions which come in every game when concentration was vital after a period of relative inactivity. Brown had stressed the dangers of failing to focus properly in his match preparations. His players had clearly listened to him.

Sure there were odd moments when Latvia threatened and one, in particular, when Jim Leighton saved from Olegs Blagonadezdins.

In essence Latvia found it difficult to cope with the Scottish set-up, which allowed them little room to attack and kept their defence under pressure for 70% of the game. The Scots forced corner after corner, one free-kick seemed to follow another, and it was obvious as half-time approached that Latvia must crack. They did and from then on, although there was nervousness in the crowd, the Scotland players coped with all the pressure which the dreams of a nation had placed on them.

It is now time, surely, to hand these players the accolades which have gone to the teams of the past. Perhaps there is no Denis Law, nor a Kenny Dalglish, nor a Jimmy Johnstone, nor a Billy Bremner, but what Scotland does have is a solid team of professionals, one that is difficult to beat and one which lost just three goals in the 10 qualifying games.

The campaign was demanding and as Brown looked back over the games for what could be termed a crucial result, he did not look at the opening draw in Vienna against Austria. He bypassed the home wins over the Austrians and Swedes, and homed in on the 1-0 win in Minsk last summer.

''That,'' he claimed, ''was such a tricky game, going to Minsk five weeks after our season ended and having to get a result. The lads were great. They gave up a lot to be with us and we came through that match, and it was always the one which had worried me.''

Now it is on to France, with the Latvian coach, Janos Gilis, very politely saying that because of Scotland's efficient and economic style of play, Brown's men could be among the favourites in France. That takes things too far, but this squad is a good bet to be the first to reach the second stage of the Finals.

The country would settle for that next summer.


The Scotland manager decided to go with the men who worked well together against Belarus at Pittodrie. He was rewarded by having the two best players on the field in Kevin Gallacher and Gordon Durie.