Football: Keegan may spring 'surprise'

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THE ENGLAND coach, Kevin Keegan, has promised a bigger-than-normal squad packed with experience but possibly containing "one surprise" for the two-legged European Championship play-off with Scotland.

After all the hype since the draw was made three weeks ago, the countdown to the first leg at Hampden Park on 13 November will begin for real today when Keegan reveals his squad.

Keegan knows England cannot afford to fail in the biggest match for the country since their penalty shoot-out loss to Argentina in the 1998 World Cup finals in St-Etienne. His need for a big squad is because Michael Owen, David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Martin Keown, Sol Campbell and Gareth Southgate, plus the fringe candidates Tim Sherwood, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham, are all on one yellow card. If any of those are cautioned at Hampden, then they will be ruled out of the return at Wembley on 17 November.

"It will be a big squad this week because we have got a few yellow cards and we've also got to get through a Premiership programme on Saturday and Sunday," Keegan said. "I shall be keeping my fingers crossed that all the players in there are fit and ready to play. I think I will be going mainly for experience but there might be one surprise in it - although I don't know what people might call a surprise."

Keegan will be without the injured defenders Gary Neville, Kieron Dyer and Graeme Le Saux, plus the striker Robbie Fowler and the winger Steve McManaman. Neville was forced to cry off yesterday after suffering a recurrence of his groin injury in Manchester United's Champions' League game with Sturm Graz on Tuesday.

That may mean his brother Phil having to revert to the right-back role - and increase the chances of the Arsenal veteran Nigel Winterburn being recalled on the opposite flank at the age of 36. Keegan showed he is unconcerned about age after bringing back Stuart Pearce at the age of 37 in the same role for the games with Luxembourg and Poland in September.

The England coach has been boosted by the return to fitness of the Tottenham central defender Campbell, who looked shaky when returning in Sunday's game with Sunderland but is still a near certainty to be a key figure against the Scots alongside Adams.

Up front Keegan has been boosted by the news that Owen and Kevin Phillips should be fit, with the Liverpool player certain to partner Shearer after impressing against Belgium as substitute last month. Owen is looking to confirm his fitness in this weekend's game with Derby while Phillips suffered only severe bruising to his foot and knee after being taken off on a stretcher against Spurs.

The Scotland manager, Craig Brown, also names his squad today - and there could be a recall for the Sunderland winger Allan Johnston, who is now back playing first-team football regularly, appearing in the last four games for Birmingham City, where he is in the middle of a two-month loan spell.

Brown put in such determined efforts to secure the services of the Ipswich\ Town striker David Johnson that it would be a major surprise if he was not included in the squad for the first time.