Football: Roxburgh ready to rebuild

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The Independent Online
A BROKEN leg for Ally McCoist, broken dreams for Scotland. Andy Roxburgh spoke for all involved in the 5-0 pummelling by Portugal when he described yesterday how a 'labour of love' now felt like 'a dagger through the heart', although he shrugged off suggestions that he should resign as national coach.

As McCoist faced up to the fact that he would miss Rangers' Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen on 29 May because of a fractured fibula in his right leg, Roxburgh faced a media inquisition into the rout which effectively ended Scotland's hopes of qualifying for a sixth successive World Cup finals.

The Canute-like defiance of the immediate aftermath of Scotland's dark night in the Stadium of Light, when Roxburgh had spoken of retaining a 'statistical' chance, was replaced by realism and regret. 'My worst night in charge of any team at any level,' he admitted. However, while it might have finished 8-1, Roxburgh insisted it had been a 'freak result' which would not tempt him to bow to the inevitable 'Roxy Must Go' headlines.

'My judgement on myself would be that the management have given everything we could,' he said. 'If that's not enough, it's up to someone else to say so. If people are fair minded they'll look into the circumstances. Maybe some top-level coaches could have done more than us, though I'd suggest there aren't many.'

By 'circumstances' he was referring to the ludicrous workload to which many of his squad have been subjected. Some, he claimed, began feeling the strain of their European Championship exertions last September.

Roxburgh found less sympathy when he maintained that the players were at ease with the 3-5-2 formation he had used. It was painfully clear, as Paulo Futre and Co found gaps at will, that certain Scots did not understand what is essentially an alien system.

Nor was there a satisfactory explanation for the mystery of Brian McClair, enthusiastically recalled after some outstanding attacking displays for Manchester United yet left on the bench throughout a match Scotland needed to win. In contrast, Dundee United's Jim McInally duplicated Stuart McCall's midfield anchor role, despite having played only two minutes' football in the previous month.

Portugal, who will await the outcome of tomorrow's meeting between Group One leaders Italy and Switzerland with renewed interest, fielded seven players under 24. Roxburgh hinted that he would now give more of his own young hopefuls their chance, with the aim of building towards the next European Championship.

'The policy must be long-term,' he said, 'and it's a process that's already started with players like Eoin Jess.' Ironically, that could mean the end of the international line for some of the older 'Lisbon Lambs' and 'Lemmings', as they were predictably dubbed yesterday - not least the unfortunate McCoist.

Aberdeen will stage Scotland's next World Cup home fixture, against Estonia on 2 June, because of continuing refurbishment work at Hampden Park and the re-seeding of the Ibrox pitch.

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