Football: Scotland's options hit by Old Firm

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The Independent Online
THE SUSPICION that Scotland's match with Germany in the Weserstadion here tomorrow will be a friendly too far - for both countries - gained currency yesterday when the European champions lost two of the players who will represent Bayern Munich against Manchester United next month.

While Craig Brown and his depleted squad - hastily reinforced by the Heart of Midlothian midfielder Colin Cameron - were kicking their heels in Glasgow following delays to their flight, Erich Ribbeck was pondering a reduction in Germany's options after the withdrawal of the midfielder Markus Babbel and the goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.

Babbel, who had scored for the European Cup finalists against TSV 1860 in Sunday's Munich derby, pulled out because of a groin injury. His club colleague Kahn, the Bundesliga record holder for clean sheets, has a stomach problem. To add to Ribbeck's concerns, the Werder Bremen striker Marco Bode is doubtful with a muscle strain.

Unlike his Scottish counterpart, who sent for Cameron only after five players dropped out, the German coach has not felt it necessary to call up replacements for the outfield players at this late stage. However, Hans-Jorg Butt, the penalty-taking keeper from Hamburg, has arrived to provide back-up for Borussia Dortmund's Jens Lehmann.

Brown, who cannot have been surprised to lose the Old Firm trio of Jackie McNamara, Craig Burley and Neil McCann for a game which takes place just four days before the Premier League collision of Celtic and Rangers, may view the indisposition of the Bayern duo as evening up matters somewhat. Of his original selection, David Hopkin and Matt Elliott have also succumbed to knocks.

Cameron, who has missed much of the season with a pelvic injury, did not discover that Brown wanted him to travel until 2am yesterday.

Having been out for a meal with friends in Fife, Cameron returned home to find that his mother had left a message instructing him to ring the Hearts' manager, Jim Jefferies, "no matter what time it was". He wondered whether he might have transgressed against club discipline, but admitted to a "sneaky feeling" that it could be "something to do with Scotland".

Then he realised that his passport was being processed for a visa to visit the Middle East on holiday. That meant hurriedly obtaining a temporary one before reporting for duty. Given that Brown is under moral pressure not to put undue physical strain on the players from Rangers and Celtic - not to mention those with clubs embroiled in the relegation struggle - Cameron can expect to see some action.

Brown has never set much store by results in non-competitive games, which is just as well in view of Scotland's patchy record. But, with two European Championship matches to come in early June, away to the Faroe Islands and the Czech Republic respectively, he will be keen to try out fringe players. He also tends to regard such expeditions as useful in terms of fostering the kind of togetherness that has helped Scotland to gloss over shortcomings in quality.

Both he and the 61-year-old Ribbeck - the surprising and, some would argue, desperate choice to replace Brown's friend Berti Vogts eight months ago - have found themselves caught between the pressure to deliver victories and the need to freshen up ageing teams with younger talent.

Germany's failure at France 98, followed by the defeat in Turkey which signalled the end for Vogts, prompted great soul searching within the nation's football fraternity. Franz Beckenbauer was among those who articulated the worry that the tradition of producing harmonious, efficient and successful sides was a thing of the past. The new generation, it was said, were not developing because of a surfeit of cheap foreign imports in the Bundesliga.

A 3-0 humiliation by the United States in February appeared to confirm their worst fears. Paul Breitner, Beckenbauer's former colleague with Bayern and West Germany, decreed that the national team were now on a par with Albania and Moldova. Another German of similar vintage, Gunther Netzer, claimed they had "no players anymore, only runners".

Subsequent wins over Northern Ireland (3-0) and Finland (2-0) on the Euro 2000 trail have put the Florida flop into a calmer perspective. The match was, after all, a friendly played during the German winter break, when players were regaining fitness after a two-month hiatus.

The Scots are unlikely, therefore, to benefit from any deficit in morale on the part of their hosts, although the true worth of the fixture may not become evident until after their crucial Group Nine visit to Prague.

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