Football: Hendry hedges bets as Scotland decision looms

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COLIN HENDRY will roll the dice over the next 48 hours in order to determine whether he will be play in the European Championship play- off against England on Saturday. However, the odds are lengthening by the day and the defender has promised he will not play Russian roulette with either his football future or Scotland's.

It only is the Scotland captain's talismanic status that has kept Craig Brown hanging on as long as he has for Hendry's knee injury to heal for the first leg at Hampden Park, but the national coach realises that he and Hendry both have a bigger picture to assess and neither wishes to gamble.

For Brown - and Scotland - the prize is Euro 2000 qualification, and only fully-fit players will withstand the 180-minute heat of the tie. For Hendry, though, that reward is almost certainly outweighed by the risks facing England pose to his pending transfer to Derby County. One knock would jeopardise a return to the English Premiership and consign him to isolation at Ibrox - Dick Advocaat has told Hendry he is not in Rangers' plans. Yesterday, Hendry laid his cards on the table, as much as he could, but also hinted that, given the stakes involved against England, some bluffing may be necessary even once a decision on his fitness has been made.

"I would not expect you guys to get a call about that," Hendry told reporters at Hampden before joining the Scotland squad for a training session at a stadium basking in sunshine and quietness, but which, on Saturday, will have 52,000 throats raising the decibel level. "It's an important game and I don't think the manager will want to give too much information away. I will go with whatever Craig decides, because he is the gaffer."

Hendry explained that the fluid on his knee has not prevented him running during his five-week absence - "I could do a marathon" - but that any knock simply inflames the area damaged in Scotland's match with Bosnia on 5 October. His club situation at Ibrox, where he had hardly played before the injury, has not helped his recovery.

The added fear of ruining his pounds 1.5m move to Derby, pencilled in for the day after the second leg at Wembley on 17 November, means he and Brown have much more to take into account than normal gut reaction about risking a player. "I would never jeopardise Scotland's chances of making Euro 2000," insisted Hendry.

"As an individual, I have most to lose. If anything put paid to the transfer to Derby, then I would be throwing away three years of regular football. That is why I am leaving Rangers, because I am not in their plans.

"The closer I get to the weekend, the better indication I will have. But I know both myself and the manager can only wait for so long, but I am battling against the forces of nature and that is the one thing you can't beat."

Brown will borrow a "pressurised training situation" idea from Gianluca Villai to provide the decision on Hendry which the absence of match-practice has delayed. "Chelsea do it with their injured players and we will give him waves of attackers to deal with. He will get more out of 25 minutes of that than in a whole practise game."

The Scotland manager acknowledged the "influence" of a captain who has 42 caps, but added: "We have to balance that with his lack of match practice. If I have to leave him out it will be difficult, but Colin knows it will be done in the best interests of Scotland."

Brown revealed that similar fears of jeopardising a transfer made John Collins take out extra insurance cover for Euro 96 in case injury affected his move from Celtic to Monaco. The Scotland manager also has continuing injury doubts over Gary McSwegan (hamstring) and Barry Ferguson (ribs) but neither player's situation had altered yesterday.