Football: Scots put faith in 'failures'

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The Independent Online
ALREADY this season two of Europe's lesser footballing powers have beefed up slender reputations at Scottish expense. Craig Brown, the Scotland manager, yesterday named the 20-man squad charged with ensuring Finland fail to do likewise, and it contained eight members of the Aberdeen and Rangers teams humbled by Latvian and Greek opponents, respectively.

It may seem perverse for Brown to embark on any qualifying campaign - let alone one that leads to the European Championship finals over the wall in England - so dependent on players who have just been exposed in Continental competition.

In fact, the pool for the game in Helsinki a week tomorrow lacks only a couple of names with a case for inclusion. Rather than any misplaced faith, Brown's selection reflects the dearth of top-class performers available to Scotland.

Andy Walker, whose only previous cap came against Colombia six years ago, returns to contention. John McGinlay, his former partner at Bolton, makes way, but with McGinlay dropped to substitute by his club and Walker - 'the best striker I've seen this season', says Brown - thriving at Celtic after recovering from a serious injury, the change is hardly a surprise.

Apart from McGinlay, whose Bolton colleague Mixu Paatelainen may well figure in the Finnish attack, the most conspicuous omission is perhaps that of Phil O'Donnell, embroiled in a messy on-off transfer from Motherwell to Celtic.

Aware that the domestic game expects a fillip in Finland, Brown hopes his Aberdeen and Rangers contingent will be fired up by the fact that the national team now represent their only prospect of European football this season. At the start of his first full season in charge, he promises 'a passing game balanced with passion', but warns that 'the claymores and bagpipes' must be allied to technique at international level.

The return to fitness of Andy Goram, one of Rangers' few successes against AEK Athens, gives him options in the goalkeeping department. Similarly, Paul McStay is in fine form, though experience has tended to show that there is not room for both the Celtic playmaker and Gary McAllister, Brown's captain and midfield fulcrum.

Two years ago, with Scotland seeking to build on a bold showing in the European Championship finals, Andy Roxburgh allowed McAllister and Brian McClair to play in a Premier League match 72 hours before the World Cup qualifying round opened in Switzerland. The Scots never recovered from a 3-1 defeat, and with that in mind Brown has enforced his right under Fifa regulations to withdraw Tranmere's Pat Nevin from Saturday's match with Sheffield United.

SCOTLAND SQUAD (v Finland, European Championship Group Eight, Helsinki, 7 September): Goram (Rangers), Gunn (Norwich), Leighton (Hibernian); Boyd, Collins, McStay, Walker (all Celtic), Hendry (Blackburn), Irvine, Jess, Shearer, McKimmie (all Aberdeen), Levein, McLaren (both Hearts), Robertson, I Ferguson, McCall (all Rangers), McAllister (Leeds), McKinlay (Dundee United), Nevin (Tranmere).