Football: McAllister rues World Cup blow

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The Independent Online
GARY McALLISTER yesterday relived the moment when he knew his World Cup dream was over.

The Coventry City midfielder and the captain of Scotland limped out of a reserve game against Notts County on Wednesday night with a recurrence of the knee problem that has kept him out of action for the last three months. He was "very upset" immediately after the incident, but yesterday was trying to be positive about his injury.

McAllister will visit a specialist on Monday and is expected to have an operation on the torn cruciate ligament on his right knee in the next seven days. He anticipates being out of action for eight months, which means he will miss the opening qualifiers in for the 2000 European Championship as well as the World Cup.

"I was aware when I had my cartilage operation eight weeks ago it would be a gamble to try to support the knee by building up the muscles," McAllister said. "I felt I had to go down that road, although I always knew it was a gamble. Getting fit and training all went well, but the acid test was always going to be the first competitive game.

"The fact that I broke down with no one near me shows the knee wasn't right and gave me a definite answer. I just turned and reached for a ball, and my right knee buckled under me."

McAllister damaged the cruciate ligament when he injured his cartilage in December, but had hoped to make it through to France 98 without further surgery. Those hopes have now been dashed - and McAllister's season has come to a premature end. He will be 37 by the time the 2002 World Cup comes around in Japan and South Korea.

Scotland's manager, Craig Brown, and the players offered their sympathy and support after hearing the grim news about McAllister, who has been capped 56 times.

Brown said: "Of course it's a major disappointment for Scotland, but I think we should put the player first in this kind of situation.

"You have to think of what it means personally to him and he's naturally very upset. So am I and I know the rest of the people connected with the squad will be as well.

"We all know what going to the World Cup finals meant to Gary. He missed out in 1990, when he was on the bench, and was desperate to play in France.

"I'm just coming to terms with the situation myself and it's hard to take in. Everyone is aware how influential a player Gary is on the park.

"But what is sometimes understated is the way he's respected both on and off the park by the other players."

Brown will name his squad to face Denmark in a friendly on 25 March a week today and there is now a vacancy for the captaincy. The Aberdeen goalkeeper Jim Leighton, the Blackburn defender Colin Hendry and the Monaco midfielder John Collins would appear to be the main contenders. Brown said: "I'll make a decision about that a little bit later."