OKAY, let's start with some positive spin, shall we? Croats, according to popular myth, are a bit like Guinness and Richard Branson's hot-air balloons. They don't travel well.

It is a time-honoured misconception, designed to inject hope into the most hopeless of situations, one based on the simple fact that teams are more comfortable in their natural environment.

That being the case, Rainer Bonhof can expect a performance more readily identifiable than the one he witnessed on Sunday from his young charges.

This is their sternest test yet and the German is intrigued to discover if they, like those who have already flown the nest, can reach higher still. The prominent placement of Darren Fletcher, James McFadden and Andy Webster in Berti Vogts' play-off pool against Holland is a handicap Bonhof is happy to handle.

The German, whose contract expires at the end of the season, saw his hopes of qualifying for the finals of the European Under-21 Championships dented after Sunday's 2-0 defeat, yet they are in a position to salvage the situation. The availability of the aforementioned trio would have helped the cause significantly, while the suspensions of Gary Caldwell and David McCracken leave Bonhof with a gaping hole in defence.

A spirited second-half display has kept the tie alive and with a hearty throng expected at Easter Road tonight, not to mention a recent rousing comeback from two goals down against Lithuania in the qualifying group, Croatia's post-match jubilation seems premature.

''When we changed in the dressing room we could hear them celebrating next door,'' Bonhof bristled. ''I would not say they think they have already qualified but hopefully that will get a reaction from my players. We showed them too much respect and I think my players were impressed with their style and one-touch football.''

In Niko Kranjcar and Marko Babic, Croatia have the complete centre-midfielder and centre-forward. Fortunately, their skills have been acknowledged by the senior side, who have included both in the squad for the second leg of their play-off with Slovenia tomorrow.

Bonhof will have to reshuffle in every department, and the UEFA-approved decision to play the legs just 52 hours apart does not leave much time to solve dilemmas.

An ankle complaint from John Kennedy does not seem serious enough to eliminate Scotland's only remaining centre back. Steven Hammell may be required to shuffle inside to form a makeshift back four, with Stuart Duff and Peter Canero competent full-backs.

Manchester United's Michael Stewart appears to be suffering a crisis of confidence. Loaned out to Nottingham Forest while Fletcher flirts with Sir Alex Ferguson's first XI, he has reached a crossroads.

Undoubtedly gifted, the midfielder has to rediscover the hunger that helped him to Champions League appearances not so long ago. His short-term clubmate at Forest, Gareth Williams, is in a similar situation. A rapid rise at the City Ground, including the captaincy at 21, resulted in a brief appearance with the Scotland senior side against Nigeria. A substitute on Sunday, he may start instead of Stewart tonight.

In attack, there is less of a debate. Shaun Maloney came on after the interval in Varazdin and proved an acute annoyance to the Croatian defenders. Puzzled by his relegation to the bench, he is determined to make up for that disappointment.

''I think the bottom line is we did not play well enough,'' he said, ''and after coming this far and getting to this level under the manager, it was disappointing that we gave him one of our worst performances.

''We need to start the game as they did in Croatia and if we get an early goal then we definitely have a chance. What we have to remember is that some of the boys will not get another chance at this again because they will be too old.

''Everyone from the coaches to the players are desperate to get another six months of experience with the under-21s. If we come back from this it would be something special.''

If they come back from this, considering the verbal assurance from UEFA that Scotland are favourites to host the event, should they qualify, it would be a summer to savour.