Burley's midfield cupboard threadbare

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Scotland's manager George Burley has only four midfielders remaining in his squad for tomorrow's friendly with Croatia at Hampden after seven late withdrawals, but he insisted yesterday that conspiracy theories citing Saturday's Old Firm derby as the reason why are wrong.

The game is Burley's first game in charge of Scotland since succeeding Alex McLeish, and four of the seven play for Rangers, who host Celtic at the weekend in the most important Glasgow derby in years.

Barry Ferguson, the Scotland and Rangers captain, has withdrawn because of an ankle problem, while team-mates Lee McCulloch (with a thigh strain), Christian Dailly (broken toe) and goalkeeper Allan McGregor (unspecified knee ailment) also attended Scotland's camp at Loch Lomond only to make swift departures.

Birmingham City's James McFadden withdrew after undergoing weekend keyhole surgery on his knee. Derby County's Stephen Pearson (hernia) and Celtic's Barry Robson (swollen knee) pulled out yesterday.

Ferguson and McCulloch would have started in midfield, with Pearson and Robson both in contention in that area and Dailly as back-up in several positions. Their absences mean that if Burley plays a four-man midfield, it must consist of Manchester United's Darren Fletcher, Celtic's Scott Brown and Paul Hartley, and Derby's Gary Teale. Even that quartet is uncertain: Fletcher missed United's win over Liverpool with a virus and travelled to Scotland only yesterday. Burley has Cardiff City's Gavin Rae as back-up.

The official Rangers website ran a story saying: "Dailly, Ferguson and McCulloch will now receive treatment at Murray Park and it is expected that all three will be fit to face Celtic in Saturday's lunchtime showdown at Ibrox." McGregor's problem is not deemed serious enough to warrant treatment other than rest.

Burley insisted the injuries are all genuine. "Every one of them wants to play for their country and it wasn't a case of looking at the game coming up on Saturday, it was down to them being injured," he said. "I named a big squad because at this time of the season you're going to pick up injuries... that's part and parcel of being a manager, whether for a club or your country.

"Aside from Christian Dailly, who has a broken bone, all the others reported for duty and were looked at by my medics. And if my medics say you can't play, you can't play."

With Ferguson out, the captain's armband will go to Celtic's Stephen McManus, who Burley joked was built in the mould of his managerial assistant, Terry Butcher. "He's a big centre-half who wants to compete and wants to defend."

Burley confirmed that Ferguson will continue as captain when fit.

The Scottish Football Association confirmed yesterday that it has scheduled two more friendlies for later this year. Scotland will play the Czech Republic in Prague on 30 May (with a reciprocal game pencilled in at Hampden in March 2010), and will play host to Northern Ireland in Glasgow on 20 August in a final warm-up before World Cup 2010 qualifying starts in September.