Football: Brown's red carpet for Ferguson

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The Independent Online
Craig Brown is hoping that the man who has terrified Premiership defences so far this season can do the same on the world stage - starting in Vienna this Saturday.

For various reasons, Duncan Ferguson has rarely been available to the Scotland manager, so Brown is hugely relieved that the Everton target man is ready to make his first international appearance for 20 months against Austria in the Scots' opening World Cup qualifier. "Duncan has never been this fit and this ready for us," Brown said yesterday at his squad's hotel in Dunblane. "It is up to us to get the best out of him, and up to him to take his chance. At his age he could be around indefinitely."

Ferguson missed Euro 96 with a groin injury and has yet to score in five senior appearances, with the last coming against Greece in December 1994. Injury, suspension and a jail sentence for assault have kept him out since then.

Now, though, Ferguson is ready to take his place in Scotland's attack alongside Ally McCoist - the player after whom Ferguson once named one of his racing pigeons.

Scotland, who fly to Vienna this afternoon, have one injury worry. Colin Hendry, the Blackburn defender, is awaiting the result of a scan on a groin problem that has been bothering him all season.

Barry Hunter, Reading's pounds 400,000 summer signing from Wrexham, has withdrawn from the Northern Ireland squad for Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Ukraine in Belfast, after breaking down with a knee injury during a training session in his home town of Coleraine on Monday night. The 27-year-old defender sees a specialist today to assess the extent of the injury.

"It's a blow, for Hunter had been playing exceptionally well and established an excellent partnership with Colin Hill," said Bryan Hamilton, the Northern Ireland manager. Arsenal's Steve Morrow has been added to the squad to provide defensive cover - Barnsley's Gerry Taggart was unavailable because of a hamstring injury.

Wales, who face San Marino at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday, prepared for the World Cup qualifier with a 6-1 win over the League of Wales side, Cwmbran Town, on Tuesday. Both Dean Saunders, troubled by blisters, and Mark Pembridge, who has an ankle injury, sat out the game but Bobby Gould, the Wales manager, was happy with the warm-up. "It was very important for them to play together again after a long spell apart," he said. His team last played in early June, when they won 5-0 in San Marino in their first Group Seven game.

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