Football : Safety in numbers for Brown

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The Independent Online
Scotland yesterday named 27 players, believed to be their largest squad in 126 years of playing internationals, for the re-arranged World Cup qualifier against Estonia in Monaco a week tonight. Given their opponents' modest pedigree, the words sledgehammer and nut may seem apposite.

Craig Brown, who has recalled Paul McStay and given Wimbledon's Neil Sullivan an opportunity to press his goalkeeping claims, explained that he already had fitness doubts about several of those named. With many Premiership clubs having matches this week, and a Scottish Premier programme scheduled for Saturday, the size of the party provided insurance against withdrawals.

"Nowadays you need 18 players for a Fifa match, 11 to play and seven substitutes," the Scotland manager said. "We've got Tom Boyd, John Collins, John Spencer and Craig Burley all doubtful because of injury. I didn't want to be phoning around just before we leave on Sunday looking for players."

As well as seeking a victory that would put Scotland four points clear at the top of Group Four, Brown plans to use the trip to Monte Carlo for squad bonding. Before the end of April the Scots face Estonia and second- placed Austria at home plus Sweden away, matches that will probably decide whether they go back to France for the finals next summer.

McStay, who won his 73rd and most recent cap against Australia last March, returns after a serious ankle injury. Ian Ferguson, in whose form the manager has detected "greater deftness", is back in favour nearly three years after his last cap. Duncan Ferguson is also included, 26 months since his last appearance.

The selection of the Surrey-born Sullivan, who has a Scottish grandfather, is a long-term expedient. He will not play in Monaco, and even an interim injury to Jim Leighton or Andy Goram would not guarantee him a place on the bench, but Brown was unapologetic about choosing an Englishman.

"Neil's eligible so we're taking him to see if he shapes up," he said. "We have enough handicaps without imposing new ones on ourselves. If he turned out to be world-class, I'd be kicking myself. When Scotland won the rugby Grand Slam, no one said anything about Sean Lineen being a New Zealander."

SCOTLAND SQUAD (World Cup Group Four v Estonia, Monaco, Tuesday 11 February): Leighton (Hibernian), Goram (Rangers), Howie (Motherwell), Sullivan (Wimbledon); Boyd, T McKinlay, McNamara, McStay (all Celtic), Burley (Chelsea), Calderwood (Tottenham), Collins (Monaco), D Ferguson (Everton), I Ferguson, McCoist, McLaren (all Rangers), Gallacher, Hendry, B McKinlay (all Blackburn), Gemmill (Nottingham Forest), D Jackson (Hibernian), Jess, G McAllister (both Coventry), Lambert (Borussia Dortmund), B McAllister (Wimbledon), McGinlay (Bolton), Spencer (Queen's Park Rangers), Whyte (Middlesbrough).