Football: McKinlay's chance to stake claim

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The Independent Online
FROM Vienna, Austria, to Vienna, Virginia, Scotland's World Cup campaign has almost come full circle, yet Craig Brown may still have one last selection surprise for their final pre-World Cup friendly against the United States here today.

Tosh McKinlay, who was left out in the cold throughout Celtic's championship season, is set to win his 20th cap in the 90 degree heat of the Robert F Kennedy Stadium.

The 33-year-old wing back, who appeared in all 10 qualifying fixtures, has played only two full senior games at club level since September - on loan to Stoke City - but now has the opportunity to claim a place in Scotland's line-up against Brazil on 10 June.

McKinlay owes his chance to the injury problems which continue to beset the Scotland manager, Craig Brown. His Celtic colleague, Craig Burley, has a calf strain which is likely to necessitate a reshuffle in midfield. Gordon Durie, the squad's lone Ranger since the departure of Andy Goram, is also doubtful because of a groin injury.

"There's no way we'll gamble on them," Brown said. "Our doctor told me that if the US was the first game of the World Cup he could guarantee me Burley, but not Durie."

Brown's considerations have been further confused by the blistered feet of another McKinlay, Blackburn's Billy. He is none the less expected to come into the central midfield trio, with Christian Dailly switching to the right flank to accommodate Tosh McKinlay.

An odyssey which began 18 months ago has led the Scots to a training camp just outside the capital. A more unlikely setting in which to prepare for a competitive fixture against Brazil is difficult to imagine; their hotel is next to a freeway and surrounded by car showrooms and shopping malls.

Despite the various fitness concerns, Brown is convinced his squad are approaching tournament condition.

"We feel they're peaking at the right time. The key thing is to make sure we peak against Brazil rather than the US.

"Through the timing and the quality of our training, we think we've got it right," the Scotland manager said. "I like to think we've got trained, experienced eyes. You can see when a player is sharp and when he's fatigued. For example, Alex Miller (assistant manager), felt our strikers needed sharpness yesterday and worked with them after the rest had finished.

He anticipates a stiffer test than Colombia provided in last weekend's 2-2 draw. "The US's results in recent times have been excellent, and they are clearly playing very well. In fact, they've got better World Cup results than we have of late and they've also got players with top experience in Europe."

Brown is well acquainted with the Americans' unorthodox 3-6-1 formation. "It's a very resourceful system which suits their counter-attacking style very well," he said.

However, the heat and humidity may be just as important a factor in the way the game unfolds. "Our only concern is that we might have to make earlier substitutions," Brown said. "But that's the reason we're here, for acclimatisation. Hopefully, we won't encounter anything hotter when we're in France. We're very thorough in our preparations, whether we're playing San Marino, Estonia or Brazil. If you start to differentiate, you devalue your opponents and players pick up on that."

The Scotland camp have received with interest news of the results involving their opponents at France 98. Norway, noted Brown, are evidently the "form team," but he added: "We only hope they are going to peak too soon."

Meanwhile, Alex Ferguson has phoned Brown from Casablanca to update him on Morocco. Ferguson warned him that they had outplayed England in the first half. Brown remains confident that he will be fully versed in the style of their African opponents, not least because Morocco will have played twice before meeting the Scots.

SCOTLAND (probable, 3-5-2): Leighton (Aberdeen), Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyd (Celtic), Dailly (Derby), B McKinlay (Blackburn), Lambert (Celtic), Collins (Monaco), T McKinlay (Celtic), Gallacher (Blackburn), Jackson (Celtic).

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