Football: Brown opts for the old hands

Euro 2000: Scotland decide against experimentation in Lithuania but Republic show faith in their `Young Dubs'
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The Independent Online
GLAMOROUS IT isn't. Seventy-four days after departing the World Cup amid the heaving high-rise stands of St-Etienne, Scotland start the long haul to the European Championship finals against Lithuania today. The Zalgiris Stadium, built by German prisoners of war, holds 6,000 on seats bought from Ibrox and has a badly rutted pitch.

A training session there yesterday confirmed Craig Brown's feeling that the circumstances called for experience rather than exper- imentation. So there is no place in Scotland's starting line-up for Barry Ferguson, the 20-year-old Rangers midfielder, already burdened with the tag of "the future of Scottish football", or for the older but also uncapped Steve Fulton and Neil McCann.

Instead, Brown has picked a side with an average age nudging 32, which contains just one player younger than 30 - Christian Dailly. Jim Leighton wins his 90th cap in goal and Ally McCoist returns for his 60th. The only comparative newcomer is the Leicester centre-back, Matt Elliott, who makes his competitive debut after three friendlies.

Elliott's introduction means a change of role for Colin Calderwood, who sat out the Scots' exit from France 98 against Morocco because of a broken hand. Calderwood will play on the right side of midfield, with the right- footed Dailly continuing on the opposite flank despite Blackburn's stated intention to deploy their pounds 5.3m signing as a centre-back.

Darren Jackson will be expecting both to play off the front two and to bolster midfield when necessary. The inclusion of Jackson, nominally a forward, prompted Brown to dismiss suggestions that it was a conservative selection. "We saw Calderwood play effectively down the right against Finland earlier this year and deliver some great crosses," the Scotland manager said. "As for Dailly, some of the best left-backs Scotland have had were right-footed, Tommy Gemmell and Eric Caldow."

Brown acknowledged the advances made by two young left-backs, Blackburn's Callum Davidson and Hearts' Gary Naysmith. While their emergence was likely to make Dailly's stay on the left "temporary", the "tricky environment" of Lithuania had convinced him to go for proven internationals.

"I don't detect any complacency from these players. They've enjoyed being in the big tournaments and are hungry to get to another. They know that to do that you have to pick up points at places like this. I can send this team out knowing every one of them is a committed, hardened professional."

The 40-year-old Leighton, who shouldered the bulk of the blame for Morocco's three goals, remains "the appropriate man for the job" according to Brown. McCoist convinced him of his fitness after an arduous work-out yesterday.

The state of the playing surface may prompt a modification to the passing game favoured by Scotland. The sight of the ball bobbling over John Collins' foot in practice persuaded Brown to instruct Collins and Paul Lambert to be more direct.

Elliott's place is just reward for his consistency in the Premiership, where his combativeness saw him arrive in Vilnius sporting seven stitches in an eye wound following a brush with Chris Sutton and a barely-healed broken nose sustained in a challenge with Andy Cole. It also indicates that he has dispelled the doubts raised by his uneasy display against Finland, whose goal stemmed from his mistake.

"It doesn't do you any good to get bad reviews," said the 29-year-old Londoner, who qualifies for Scotland by virtue of a deceased granny from Partick. "I felt the criticism was a touch unfair. These things happen to the best of players."

With his wife due to give birth imminently, Elliott has spent much of his spare time phoning home. "I'll be playing with my fingers crossed," he said.

Brown hopes for much the same from all his defenders against a Lithuanian team he rates as the best from the former Soviet states in the Baltics. Twelve months ago, when McCoist was winning his 59th and seemingly final cap against Belarus, the Lithuanians pushed the Republic of Ireland hard before losing 2-1 here.

Lithuania's new coach, Kestutis Latoza, is expected to include exiles from Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Poland and the Netherlands. Difficulties in securing the release of foreign-based players led to his predecessor using 58 players in a year. But where better than a city where images of Lenin have been removed and a bust of Frank Zappa erected to demonstrate that necessity is the mother of invention?

SCOTLAND (3-4-1-2): Leighton (Aberdeen), Hendry (Rangers), Elliott (Leicester): Boyd (Celtic); Calderwood (Tottenham), Lambert (Celtic), Collins (Everton), Dailly (Blackburn); Jackson (Celtic); Gallacher (Blackburn), McCoist (Kilmarnock).

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