Football: Elliott's song for France

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MATT ELLIOTT will simultaneously start his first game for and in Scotland tonight, more confident of taming Denmark's fabled Laudrup brothers than of mastering the words to his adopted country's pre-match anthem.

The London-born centre-back, who qualifies for Craig Brown's side by virtue of a deceased grannie from Partick, has not played so much as a pre-season friendly north of the wall. But after coming on late in Scotland's last match, November's 2-1 defeat in France, Elliott will partner Colin Hendry at Ibrox.

If appearances count for anything, the twin peaks of Leicester and Blackburn will present a daunting barrier. Elliott favours the close-cropped look that once went with a crombie coat and bovver boots. Hendry, who assumes the captaincy in the absence of Gary McAllister, has the flapping, flaxen mane of a latter-day Viking.

The Scotland manager has been impressed by the speed with which the 29- year-old Elliott has adapted to the rigours of the Premiership. "Matt's far better with his feet than you'd imagine for such a huge guy,' Brown said. "Denmark tend not to play the ball in the air, but deliver it into the box on the deck. But I've no qualms about him. He's brilliant at both ends of the pitch, especially at set-pieces."

The fact that Hendry and Elliott have never played together leaves Brown open to criticism. Some will argue that, with 11 weeks to go before Scotland open the World Cup finals against Brazil, he is leaving it late to experiment.

There are, however, a further three warm-up fixtures in which to iron out problems, as well as the training camp in the United States in May. Moreover, Elliott has the advantage of his club operating a three-man defence similar to the Scots' system.

Elliott, who admitted feeling he has "a lot to prove to a lot of people", is going in at the deep end. Barely 15 months after leaving Oxford, he will be facing not only Brian Laudrup, on the stage he knows intimately from his time with Rangers, but also big brother Michael.

Yet he seemed more perturbed by the prospect of being seen to struggle with the lyric of "Flower of Scotland", rather as John Redwood was with the Welsh anthem, and promised to "brush up on it".

Hendry, meanwhile, would appear to have the opportunity to establish himself as captain for France 98, although Brown said it did not necessarily follow that he would retain the armband. John Collins, one of six players forced to drop out of the squad, also has a plausible claim.

The withdrawal of Collins, Craig Burley and Paul Lambert gives Brown no option other than to revamp his midfield. Stuart McCall is set to resume in the anchor role, with Billy McKinlay and Scot Gemmill encouraged to push on more.

In attack, Darren Jackson is a definite starter, just six months after brain surgery. Goalkeeping rivals Jim Leighton and Andy Goram will each play a half.

Denmark, currently third in Fifa's world rankings, are missing only the incapacitated Peter Schmeichel and have lost only once since Bo Johansson became coach after Euro 96. Brown, having watched their rout of Croatia on video, described Michael Laudrup's goal as among the best he had ever seen.

Johansson said he expected great things of the younger Laudrup now that the "stress" of his proposed transfer to Chelsea had been lifted. He also sensed a "real find" in Celtic's Morten Wieghorst, who owes his career in Scotland to having impressed Dundee when playing for Lyngby at Ibrox.

SCOTLAND (probable 3-5-2): Leighton (Aberdeen); Hendry (Blackburn), Elliott (Leicester), Dailly (Derby); McNamara (Celtic), McKinlay (Blackburn), Gemmill (Nottingham Forest), McCall (Rangers), Boyd (Celtic); Jackson (Celtic), Jess (Aberdeen.

DENMARK (possible 3-4-1-2): Krogh (Brondby); Laursen (Derby), Rieper (Celtic), Heintze (Bayer Leverkusen); Helveg (Udinese), Nielsen (Tottenham), Schjoenberg (Kaiserslautern), Wieghorst (Celtic); M Laudrup (Ajax); B Laudrup (Rangers), Moeller (PSV Eindhoven).