Football: Calderwood's timely return to duty

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The Independent Online
WITH THE unhappy exception of Faustino Asprilla, Colin Calderwood looks like emerging from the group stages with more air miles to his name than any other player.

On Wednesday the Tottenham defender flew out of the Scottish HQ - and the tournament - to have surgery on his injured hand in London. By tonight he will be back, harbouring hopes of playing in the second phase should Scotland advance.

Calderwood fell heavily early in the second half of Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Norway in Bordeaux. The seriousness of the damage was immediately apparent to him because two of his fingers were bent at right angles to the others. He was substituted and returned home, passing his wife and children at Heathrow as they left for a holiday and leaving Craig Brown resigned to losing him.

Now, however, the specialist who performed the operation has indicated to the Scotland medical staff that Calderwood might be able to rejoin the campaign after Tuesday's crucial Group A match against Morocco in St Etienne.

Alex Miller, the Aberdeen manager and assistant to Brown, spoke of the "possibility" of his resuming active service a week today, when Scotland have their sights set on facing Italy in Marseilles. The likelihood is that Calderwood would have to wear a light plaster cast, provided it was sanctioned by Fifa.

"It would be a great boost," Miller said. "Colin's a very good defender and an important part of our organisation at the back. He was desperate to continue. Now he's had the bones in his hand wired up and protected by a bandage, though he'd need to start training at the beginning of next week to be in contention for any second-phase match."

The Scots are taking care not to sound as if they are taking victory over Morocco for granted. Rightly so: they have not won in the finals since 1990 and that success, against Sweden, was only their fourth in six visits to the tournament.

Morocco go into the match knowing that they will progress if they win, and have improved their ability to cope with the physical side of the north European game. Frank Coulston, the former Partick Thistle player who assesses opponents for Brown, was impressed by them even in the 3- 0 beating by Brazil. "They're a good side and didn't lose their shape or discipline after going three goals down," Coulston said. "We won't underestimate them at all, although we think we know how they will play. It's basically a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Moustafa Hadji as the one behind the front players. It's unlikely they'll change."

Miller, who has joined Brown in studying video footage of the Moroccans, endorsed his colleague's warning. "They counter-attack in numbers, sometimes five or six guys at a time, and at high speed."

Hadji, who has been playing with pain-killing injections in a toe injury, may present Scotland with an unusual dilemma, Miller noted. The Deportivo La Coruna player does not operate just off the strikers in a central area in a manner which might necessitate man-marking. He is just as likely to materialise on either wing.

By contrast, it has been mooted that Scotland will be seeking to exploit Morocco's goalkeeping problems. Miller remarked diplomatically that the current incumbent, Driss Benzekri, "would be disappointed with the goals he lost against Norway," but was reluctant to tempt fate further. "We never tell the players that a keeper is the weakness. If we did, nothing's more certain than that he'd have a brilliant game against us.''

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