Ferguson will be a major loss to Scotland squad, says Naismith

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The Independent Football

Steven Naismith believes Barry Ferguson will be a major loss to Scotland but fully understands his reasons for retiring from international football. Ferguson will not play for Scotland again after informing manager Craig Levein he wants to focus on his club career with Birmingham City instead.

It was a decision the midfielder had mulled over for months after Levein opened the door for the former Rangers captain to return to the national fold.

Ferguson was banned from international selection in April last year, along with his then Ibrox team-mate Allan McGregor, for his role in the infamous "Boozegate" affair and has not represented his country since.

Levein declared his desire to see both players back in the squad when he replaced George Burley as manager in December. But he has reluctantly been forced to accept Ferguson's decision not to make a comeback ahead of the forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers.

"He will be a massive loss," said Scotland and Rangers forward Naismith. "We felt it at Rangers when he left here. It was a massive loss for us and it will be the same again for Scotland, especially on the international stage where you need players who have got a lot of experience. Fergie was the one who probably had the most experience out of the whole squad so it will be a big loss.

"But you just have to look at players in the past, guys like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, who have prolonged their careers by stopping playing international football. So I can understand totally why Barry has done it."

Naismith believes Rangers midfielder Kevin Thomson, whose Scotland career has been hampered by injury in the past, is a natural successor to Ferguson in the national team. "Kevin Thomson was the first name that sprung to mind when I heard the news,". Naismith said. "He has done so well over the last couple of years for Rangers and he was the first to come to my mind. It will be an opportunity for guys like Kevin Thomson, who have pushed on now.

"There are a few players out there who will think they are good enough. Players who have been down in England, like Graham Dorrans, as well. He has done well at West Brom so he is another candidate."

Naismith believes senior members of the Scotland squad will also have a bigger role to play now that they can no longer rely on former captain Ferguson's leadership qualities.

He said: "James McFadden has been around the international scene for a while so you would be looking at someone like him to have more of an influence on the squad. Darren Fletcher is another who has played at the highest level. Lee McCulloch is back as well so there are guys there who we can look up to in the squad."

Levein said: "I am naturally disappointed not to call on Barry's abilities and experience for the Euro 2012 qualification campaign, but I understand his reasons. The arrangement was that Barry would have the summer to decide.

"Birmingham returned to pre-season training yesterday and when we spoke last night, he said that both family commitments and his commitment to Birmingham City were the priorities in his life at the moment.

"I wish him the best of luck and we now move on with our preparations for the qualification campaign, starting with the friendly against Sweden next month."

Scotland's opening Euro 2012 qualifier against Lithuania will take place at the S Dariaus ir S Gireno Stadium in Kaunas, the Lithuanian Football Federation has confirmed.

The game – which will be Levein's first competitive match in charge – will be played on 3 September, with the kick-off time yet to be confirmed.

The Scottish Football Association has negotiated a total of 2,800 tickets for Scotland supporters, despite an official ticket allocation of around 800 for the 9,180-capacity stadium. Supporters have been advised to purchase tickets only through the Scotland Supporters Club after the SFA were advised that unauthorised agencies are offering ticket and travel packages designed for travelling Scotland supporters.

The Lithuanian Football Federation cannot guarantee the validity of such tickets because they will not be in the sections officially assigned to Scotland fans.

Levein, who was capped 16 times for Scotland, is confident he can break the mould and take the national team to the 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine. "I would love to be involved," he said. "I was fortunate enough to play in the World Cup in 1990 and it was such a marvellous experience so I would love to have the opportunity to take Scotland to a World Cup or, more imminently, a European Championship.

"We have a good group of players and have probably underperformed a bit in recent years. But I don't kid on, I don't say it's going to be easy.

"We had a good result against the Czech Republic and if we get a bit of momentum going anything is possible. But I will be doing my best to get us to Poland and the Ukraine."