Football: Scotland facing Maltese boycott

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The Independent Online
Scotland could play in front of their lowest audience in more than a century of international competition when they face Malta tomorrow. The attendance in the Ta'Qali stadium is not expected to reach 2,000 with apathy afflicting the island's football community after a disastrous World Cup campaign.

Scotland's lowest gate so far was 2,738 in a European Championship qualifying match in San Marino two years ago when goals from John Collins and Colin Calderwood gave Craig Brown's team a 2-0 win.

Today, Brown's side will complete their preparations for their World Cup match in Belarus on 8 June. "We are aware that there will be hardly anybody there with the Maltese disaffected by their country's recent results," Brown said. "But that is their business. We need this match for fitness and preparation for the qualifier in Belarus."

Malta have lost all seven of their World Cup qualifiers, scoring once and conceding 29 in a run which has included three 6-0 drubbings. Defeats by Slovakia and the Faroe Islands have led to talk of a boycott of today's friendly.

Jim Leighton, the veteran Hibernian goalkeeper, returns in place of Wimbledon's Neil Sullivan, who was the side that lost 1-0 to Wales on Tuesday to win his 80th cap for Scotland.

David Hopkin, the Crystal Palace midfielder, will make his debut in midfield after sealing his club's promotion to the Premiership with the winner over Sheffield United on Monday. Craig Burley and John Collins are also set to be recalled as Brown's selection approaches the one he hopes to use in Minsk.

David Weir and Scot Gemmill look likely to step down from the side that faced Wales. Gordon Durie, the Rangers striker, will not make Brown's starting line-up but he could be fit enough for a place on the bench.

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