Brown's plans threatened by loss of Burley

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The Independent Online

In different circumstances, with more daunting opposition than San Marino lying in wait, Craig Brown might have been tearing out what remains of his hair following Craig Burley's withdrawal from the Scotland squad for tomorrow's World Cup qualifier in this republic on the outskirts of Rimini.

In different circumstances, with more daunting opposition than San Marino lying in wait, Craig Brown might have been tearing out what remains of his hair following Craig Burley's withdrawal from the Scotland squad for tomorrow's World Cup qualifier in this republic on the outskirts of Rimini.

Instead of boarding yesterday's flight from Glasgow to the Italian resort, where the Scots will be based before moving on to Zagreb for Wednesday's confrontation with Croatia, Burley flew to London for treatment on a persistent back injury. Brown, deprived of Paul Lambert and Barry Ferguson, has now lost his entire first-choice central midfield, although Burley hopes to rejoin the party on Sunday.

The Derby player had "guaranteed" his availability for the second fixture, said Brown. The game in the former Yugoslavia is likely to have rather more bearing on the question of qualification for the finals in 2002 than the meeting with San Marino's hotch-potch of coach drivers, accountants and barmen and students.

"Burley's call-off means we have lost the backbone of the team," Brown said. "But it is also a great opportunity for the back-up players like Colin Cameron and Gary Holt, while Christian Dailly can also play wide in midfield."

Against opponents who have taken just one point from 44 competitive fixtures, Brown clearly feels Scotland can get by without Burley. "He trained before we went to the airport and did everything everyone else did, though not without discomfort," the manager said. "He'd play if it was a cup final, but we feel we've got enough cover for him. He has gone to the chiropractor, who seems to have the magic touch."

It could be that Brown's line-up against San Marino will bear only a passing resemblance to the one he fields against Croatia, especially with the Leeds utility player, Dominic Matteo, also due to link up with Scotland in Zagreb provided he recovers from an ankle injury.

The versatility of Don Hutchison could prove invaluable. "If Burley, Lambert and Ferguson were fit, the best use of resources would be to have Hutchison up front," Brown explained. "Without them, it maybe better to use him in midfield where he plays for Sunderland."

Kevin Gallacher, who has not added to his haul of eight international goals for three years, will captain his country for the first time on the occasions of his 50th cap.

* Roy Keane, the Republic of Ireland captain, has caused more friction in the camp ahead of tomorrow's game against Portugal in Lisbon by criticising the exclusion of the winger Mark Kennedy and the centre-back Phil Babb from the squad over an incident before last month's trip to the Netherlands. "In my view, Babbsy and Sparky have served their punishment as far as not being in the squad is concerned," he said.

* Steffen Iversen, the Tottenham striker, is doubtful for Norway's game against Wales in Cardiff because of an ankle injury. Norway have called up Blackburn's Stig Inge Bjornebye and Celtic's Vidar Riseth, after the Ajax defender Andre Bergdolmo injured an ankle.

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