Ferguson fit to tackle Italy

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The Independent Football

Barry Ferguson, the Scotland captain, has declared himself fit for Saturday's World Cup qualifier in Italy.

Barry Ferguson, the Scotland captain, has declared himself fit for Saturday's World Cup qualifier in Italy.

The Rangers midfielder, who rejoined the club from Blackburn Rovers in January, has been playing through the pain barrier since his return to Scotland. Groin and hamstring problems have forced Ferguson, who had just recovered from a serious knee injury, to soldier through recent matches.

"My fitness is fine," he said yesterday. "I think if you ask any player, a high percentage of them will say they play with niggles and I have been doing that for the past couple of weeks. But for the first time in a few weeks, it felt fine so I have no problem about playing on Saturday."

Ferguson received the man-of-the-match award at Hampden Park on Sunday when he helped Rangers pick up the first silverware of the season, the CIS Insurance Cup, by thrashing Motherwell 5-1.

Now he has the Italians in his sights, and one in particular - his former Ibrox team-mate Rino Gattuso, now at Milan.

He said: "I played against him a few years back when we played against Milan in a friendly at Ibrox so it will be nice to meet up with him again. He certainly hasn't changed his game since leaving Scotland."

Gattuso, however, will be taking no part in the game if the Italian Federation is true to its word. The Milan midfielder, along with Giuseppe Pancaro, declined to take optional blood tests after Sunday's Serie A game with Roma, leaving the Federation president, Franco Carraro, in a tricky position.

Although there are no formal sanctions for refusing to give the optional blood samples, Carraro had said that those who declined would not be picked for the Italian national side.

Gattuso, who is in the Italy squad, defended his decision by saying that the system was badly organised. "Either you do things seriously or you don't do them at all," he said. "At any rate, I don't see where the problem is given that nothing is obligatory."

Alessandro Nesta has withdrawn from Italy's squad with an ankle injury. Vincenzo Montella sat out of training in Florence yesterday but remains with the squad.