Football: Scotland's injuries leave Brown in limbo

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The Independent Online
CRAIG BROWN was last night considering summoning reinforcements to Scotland's squad for the European Championship play-offs with England after it appeared he was losing players from all areas of the team.

Having been at Ibrox on Sunday to see his key midfielder Paul Lambert sustain concussion during the Old Firm derby - and thus be ruled out under Fifa regulations - Brown yesterday heard that the Hearts striker Gary McSwegan was withdrawing with a hamstring injury. Tomorrow he is likely to lose defender Colin Hendry, reducing his squad for the two games to 20.

Hendry, who has not played since Scotland qualified against Bosnia a month ago, was not even fit enough to play last night as an over-age player in Rangers' under-21 side.

Rangers will give him a fitness test on the knee injury this morning but he is regarded as very doubtful. If he fails it, Brown may call up Matt Elliott, of Leicester, who has not played since being sent off against the Faroes in the summer. Elliott would become the fourth English-born player in the squad.

While Brown was wondering who would turn up to Scotland's coastal retreat his counterpart, Kevin Keegan, was expecting to welcome all his 23-man squad to England's Buckinghamshire base. With several players either attending, or playing, in Lee Dixon's testimonial, the full party were not convened until late last night and Keegan will start his preparations today.

Earlier Nationwide, who sponsor both teams, brought the two coaches together in London for a joint seminar with the press. The tension which is sure to build later in the week was noticeably absent with both appearing the best of friends rather than mortal enemies.

Though their backgrounds are very different (Keegan won 63 England caps, the European Cup and was European Player of the Year, but has been in charge for only seven internationals - Brown was uncapped but has coached Scotland in 56 internationals) they had much in common.

Both feel hindered by the influx of foreign players into their respective leagues, wished more of their own players were based abroad and felt most opponents were under-rated by press and public.

"Both," said Keegan, also had "an awful lot to lose and an awful lot to gain" in the coming matches.

"The pressure will be greater in the home games," said Brown. "There is enormous pressure to deliver in front of your own supporters.

"For many Scots beating England is more important than doing well in the European championships," he added. "England are traditionally the major rivals. It is because we are neighbours but also because of the inferiority complex the Scots have. It's not just in football - why do they keep referring to Bannockburn, the one major victory over England? But while there is rivalry I don't think there is genuine animosity."

Brown had noticed more hype in Scotland than in London but admitted the matches were more important than the Wembley meeting in Euro '96. "We had a chance to recover [in the other group matches] then - these games are isolated."

Brown said England's squad looked stronger and agreed that Scotland had fewer quality individuals than in the past. But he added: "While we haven't got the likes of Dave Mackay, Billy Bremner, Denis Law and Graeme Souness, they lost as many fixtures as they won against England. We're in the play- offs and only the Czech Republic, who are arguably the best around in Europe at the moment, have beaten us in the last 11 matches."

Besides, both managers made the point that what you have on paper is not necessarily what you get on the pitch. "We had more experience in the '96 side, it was a solid side and you knew what you were getting," Brown said. "You are less sure about what you are going to get with this one. It has a wee bit of flair, some days the interpassing is excellent, but against the Czechs we gave away goals like a schoolboy team."

Keegan sympathised. "I look at my team, and I know what I could get, but this is my eighth game in charge and I still haven't got what I want out of my players. It is not that we are not trying, a lot is down to the opposition. But in some ways that pleases me, we are still unbeaten and we haven't fired on all cylinders yet."

"I've watched all the England games," interjected Brown. "Against Poland and Sweden there were spells when England were magnificent, but there were spells when they were average. We [Scotland] are the same. We [he and Keegan] are both looking for consistency."

Consistency, the goal of all coaches. On Saturday and next Wednesday, however, Keegan and Brown would each settle for performances of untypical brilliance.