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Football: Brown issues a warning to Beckham

EURO 2000 PLAY-OFFS: Scotland coach calls for discipline on both sides to ensure that the `Battle of Britain' does not take its billing too literally
CRAIG BROWN yesterday warned some of his Scotland players, and England's too, that they will be walking a disciplinary tightrope in the early stages of Saturday's European Championship play-off at Hampden Park.

The national coach believes that the five Scotland players who are just another yellow card away from an automatic suspension, and the seven belonging to Kevin Keegan's squad, are certain to come under even more scrutiny than normal because Uefa, football's European governing body, wants to ensure that the Battle of Britain is in name only, and certainly not a pitch one.

Brown admitted he will be issuing special instructions to his team to avoid needless cautions, which could rule certain players out of the second leg at Wembley next Wednesday and, while Keegan's players are not his concern, the Scotland coach generously expressed hope that David Beckham, one of the seven England players sitting on a booking, keeps his for "the good of football".

"A booking will not do the team any favours, especially with the next game coming so quickly," explained Brown, "and I am convinced that the referee will be very strict from the start, because of the nature of this fixture, and will clamp down on anything.

"He will not want to let anything get out of hand, which means it would be all too easy to get a yellow card at the start of the game: anything which resembles dissent or a bad tackle will, I think, get punished."

England have had a bad disciplinary record under Keegan, with three red cards in his short reign, yet it the most notorious sinner of all, David Beckham, who troubled Brown's mind yesterday, even to the extent of sympathising with his infamous dismissal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup finals.

"I had a lot of sympathy with him for what happened at France 98," said Brown, "but I think he will have to be careful on Saturday. People always want to noise him up, especially away from home when he plays with Manchester United in Europe."

However, Brown wants neither the Tartan Army nor his players to stoop to such gamesmanship, declaring: "We want the game played in a sporting fashion and we want to see it end 11 v 11. Anything else simply distorts the game.

"My side has a good disciplinary record and the Scottish Premier League was top of Uefa's Fair Play League last season, and we want to keep that image." Asked whether Beckham might prove too irresistible a target for the Hampden crowd, Brown shrugged and smiled before agreeing: "He might get some... but if any of our players get stick, we would see it as a compliment."

Craig Burley, one of the Scots sitting on a yellow card, insisted that he doubted the situation would affect the way he approached what will surely be a jarring occasion in midfield, populated as it is by Paul Ince and Paul Scholes. "The guys just have to block that out," said the Celtic player, who will probably be given a right wing-back role rather than his preferred attacking midfielder option. "You cannot pull out of tackles at Hampden just because you are scared you will miss the second leg. It will be a passionate affair with, no doubt, a few heavy tackles, but we'll keep our discipline because it is hard enough task to win with 11 players."

Burley and the rest of the Scotland squad received a visit yesterday at their Troon hotel from his Celtic club-mate, Paul Lambert, withdrawn from the squad after the sickening facial injury he suffered in last Sunday's Old Firm game. "The guys all feel sorry for Paul," said Burley, "but it is also a massive loss to the team and it cuts down the options available to Craig Brown in midfield."

Scotland's fitness doubts - Colin Hendry, Gary McSwegan and Barry Ferguson - all trained yesterday without any problem as Brown concentrated on set- pieces and defensive organisation. The latter may be more crucial, according to Burley. "We badly want to get to Euro 2000, but if we do not get a result in the first game it is a lost cause, so we must not take risks.

"Winning would be a great result but if we can keep a clean sheet at Hampden, even though it may not look pretty, that will be good for us."

Jorg Albertz has spoken of his regret at the injury to Lambert which has ruled the Celtic midfielder out of the play-offs. The German was brought down by Lambert during Rangers' victory at Ibrox last Sunday, and his trailing leg struck the grounded Lambert, causing facial injuries and concussion.

Albertz said: "I was so sorry to hear that Paul Lambert is missing the two play-off matches because I'd love to see this country beat England. Now I feel really guilty and I'd like to apologise to the Tartan Army, even though there was nothing I could do about the incident."

`Missing in action', page 30