Football: Dodds dashes to make plane

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The Independent Online
AT LEAST no one can accuse Billy Dodds of not being quick enough for international football. The Aberdeen striker made a 100mph dash from the granite city to Glasgow airport yesterday, arriving in time to join the Scotland squad's trip to the Lithuanian capital for tomorrow's opening qualifier for Euro 2000.

Dodds, whose Scotland career amounts to four caps and three seconds, was already two hours into training with his club when he was summoned by Craig Brown to replace the injured Scot Gemmill. A two-hour delay before take-off meant he need not have rushed, but then the 29-year-old from Ayrshire is accustomed to false starts where the Scots and the Baltic republics are concerned.

His last touch in his country's colours was to kick off the infamous "game that never was" in Estonia, two years ago next month. That match was instantly abandoned due to the small matter of the hosts failing to turn up, and Dodds drove South yesterday knowing that he might not even be asked to get changed on this occasion.

Whether he is actively involved or not is likely to hinge on the fitness of Ally McCoist. The talismanic attacker, 36 this month, warned Brown after training on Wednesday that he felt a slight recurrence of the calf condition which has troubled him since his heyday with Rangers. By the morning he believed he could play, only for Brown to stress that the player's wishes were not the sole consideration.

"We've got to look closely at McCoist in training," the Scotland manager said. "He's still a doubt. It would be totally unfair to Kilmarnock if we played him when he wasn't 100 per cent fit and the problem was aggravated. They've made a big investment in him."

The way Scotland ask their frontrunners to operate - as the first line of defence, harrying opponents to stop them from building from the back - may count against McCoist. "If he plays, he's got to do the shift," Brown said.

In theory, Gemmill's indisposition with a thigh strain should have been the cue for Brown to call up another midfielder. Despite the Nottingham Forest player joining a list of absentees which already included Gary McAllister, Craig Burley, David Hopkin and Billy McKinlay, he considered that the more pressing need was for a striker.

Gemmill, who did not kick a ball in earnest in either Euro 96 or France 98, might well have occupied the anchor role in a central trio alongside John Collins and Paul Lambert. Now the position is earmarked for Colin Calderwood.

Brown previously hinted that Barry Ferguson, the 20- year-old playmaking prodigy from Rangers, would win his first cap. If he does, it will probably be as a substitute. The manager expressed the view that "a tough away fixture like this is one for experienced players, guys who've been over the course."

Lest anyone was tempted to suggest that he was guilty of talking up modest opposition, Brown revealed that he had shown his players a film of Lithuania sharing a goalless draw with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin during the last World Cup qualifying series. "After 20 minutes, the Irish hadn't been up the park once, whereas they had two chances," he said. "It was a warning to us."