Australia came close to upsetting Scotland's preparations for the European championships by holding it to a narrow one-nil scoreline in the challenge match at Hampden Park last night. It took a marvellous headed goal by sentimental favourite, captain for the night, Ally McCoist of Rangers after 53 minutes to break the deadlock in McCoist's fiftieth game for his country. The Australians, who only came together last Sunday from Croatia, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, England and Australia, played a very cagey defensive game against the Scots, who also adopted a studious approach.
The fans and the media wanted more, and in the second half they got it, initially from Australia which could have scored twice within minutes of the restart. After a free kick, Steve Corica got past his man and whipped the ball in to the penalty area, and it took a brilliant save by veteran keeper Jim Leighton to deny Aurelio Vidmar, after Carl Veart had missed an easier chance to score as the ball skidded across the goal area. Tony Vidmar, Corica and Aurelio Vidmar, Australia's most effective player, were involved again, though this time the shot went just across the face of goal. This pressure stung the Scots into a riposte and substitute Kevin Gallagher of Blackburn Rovers sprinted down the left wing and powered over a cross which McCoist deflected past Mark Bosnich.
That should have been the signal for a Scottish landslide, but the Australians came back and Jason van Blerk, the Milwall full back had a shot which Leighton tipped away for a corner-kick. Leighton was the only survivor of the 1985 World Cup qualifying matches between Scotland and Australia and he kept a clean sheet for the third time, not without a bit of good fortune. Tiny Chelsea striker John Spencer might have done better with a header from a John Collins cross, and McCoist had a diving header saved by Bosnich after Gary McAllister found him in the clear. Spencer tested Bosnich again after dummying his marker, but in the last few minutes it was Australia on the attack, with Steve Corica having two shots, one wide and the other into the side-netting.
Geelong's Steve Horvat of Hajduk Split was immense at sweeper, making a series of saving tackles and one or two surging runs from the back, while Robbie Slater, and above all Aurelio Vidmar, matched the Scots for skill and application. Danny Tiatto of the Melbourne Knights was a second half substitute and showed his mettle with a fierce challenge on Colin Hendry of Blackburn within a minute of his arrival.
Coach Eddie Thomson said afterwards, "In the first half we were just finding our way, but after half-time we really played well. We could easily have scored just after half-time and at the end." Scottish manager Craig Brown said, "The Australians made it very difficult for us. They had a good spell at the start of the second half, but otherwise we were in full control of the game. We had to become more aggressive in the second half. That is why we brought on two substitutes. We used a four-two-four formation, which we might have to adopt in Euro 96 if we are behind and have to chase the game." Scottish radio commentator Bob Crampsey, a former student of mine at Glasgow University, said afterwards, "If Australia had scored early in the second half, the crowd might have turned against the Scots. Australia looked dangerous when it had two men wide (in attack) and might have risked that earlier than they did. It was unfortunate that Aurelio Vidmar, who is such a good player, lost the ball which led to the goal, and then protested for a free kick, instead of tracking back. But the Australians have a nucleus of a good team."