The Wales manager, Bobby Gould, has had his worst fears confirmed after John Hartson withdrew from the squad that faces Denmark on Saturday in Copenhagen and Belarus in Cardiff next Wednesday.
With a mounting campaign growing against Gould, he is now being asked to fight battles without his best players. Hartson's absence because of an on-going injury only compounds the bitter blow of Ryan Giggs' withdrawal last week with a similar problem.
Although Wales are holding on to the hope that Giggs may have recovered enough to play against Belarus at Ninian Park, Gould knows he will be without Hartson for both matches. Wales have added the Huddersfield defender Steve Jenkins to the squad, with Gould believing he has enough cover up front. He said: "I have Nathan Blake, Mark Hughes, Iwan Roberts and Dean Saunders and also Craig Bellamy as cover there."
Bellamy, the Norwich youngster promoted from the Under-21 squad as Giggs' replacement, could go straight into the battle with the Danes. Gould knows that anything but four points from the two group matches will mean the pressure on him will increase still further.
There was considerable anger among the Wales squad over the treatment of Robbie Savage, who was banished from the team hotel on the Saturday morning of the Italy game following Gould's anger at a television interview he gave, and only reinstated him to the squad at lunchtime after pressure from senior players. Some Football Association of Wales members were also unhappy and, although Gould has a majority backing on the council, further poor results and any more clashes with players could erode that support.
The Scotland coach, Craig Brown, yesterday found himself without both his first and second choice midfield for Saturday's vital Euro 2000 Qualifier against Estonia. To an injury list already containing the likes of John Collins and Paul Lambert, while Celtic's Craig Burley is suspended, Brown lost Leeds' David Hopkin and Rangers' Barry Ferguson. The youngster has a hamstring strain and has now been replaced by the man he has often been compared to, the former Ibrox man, Ian Durrant, who has relaunched his career with Kilmarnock alongside Ally McCoist this term.
Durrant, 32 later this month, last appeared for the national side four years ago. But for Brown his call-up is essential because of a marked lack of craft in central midfield among his depleted options.
Burley will return for next Wednesday's meeting with the Faroe Islands, by which time Brown fears that of the injured players, only Paul Lambert has any prospect of recovery, even if those sentiments do not appear to be shared by the player himself. Brown said: "We are eight midfielders short of who we might have had. Before the squad was even announced we were without Hearts' Stevie Fulton, Forest's Scot Gemmill and, of course, Gary McAllister."