Forward march for Ferguson the Rover

The perils of international competition are not always confined to the pitch, especially in Eastern Europe. Wales had their training kit and footballs stolen in Azerbaijan, but Scotland are just trying to guarantee against losing the contents of their stomachs in Moldova this week.

Berti Vogts has recruited his very own chef - German, naturally - for the trip to Chisinau, and Franz Westermann could turn out to be as important as Barry Ferguson in pursuing World Cup qualification. Whether the cook will be able to exert any influence on the airline meal during tomorrow's flight is unsure, but he will take control once the Scots book into their hotel. Ferguson, for one, will be glad.

"At least we will all know that we are eating chicken when we order it," smiled the Blackburn Rovers captain. "I've been to Eastern Europe a few times, and you do not get the same quality of hotel. We've spent the last week in a five-star hotel on Loch Lomond, so it will be a culture shock, but you need to blank out all of those things."

Mark Hughes did so with Wales in Azerbaijan and could play an unseen role in Scotland's bid to secure three points from the Group Five minnows, because Ferguson believes he is already reaping the reward from the philo-sophy of his new club manager. Hughes has encouraged Ferguson to get forward, as his goal in Blackburn's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa last week underlined. The midfielder's first season in the Premiership was wrecked by a knee injury, and when he returned in August after a 10-month absence, reticence rather than bravado was his stock-in-trade.

"Mark Hughes is playing a new formation," Ferguson explained. "I'm playing in the middle with Tugay and Youri Djorkaeff, but Tugay plays the sitting role, allowing Youri and myself to get forward and support Paul Dickov. Mark is very quiet but he has real authority. He has told me what he wants from me and hopefully I can score a few."

Scotland's ambitions are often blighted by a lack of goals, and Ferguson knows he has to shoulder greater responsibility, especially as he is now captain. "I enjoy being under pressure," he insisted. "We have to go to Moldova with the attitude that we can win. That is the only way forward. We need to aim for the top of the group, and if Italy win it, then we must aim to be ahead of Norway or Slovenia and finish second."

Ferguson is desperate to play in a major finals. He is now 26, but when he made his debut in 1998, in another part of Eastern Europe, it seemed that such occasions were almost written into the contract. "My first game was away to Lithuania, right after the World Cup finals in France," he recalled. "As a younger player, you think you will experience finals for yourself. Now I am one of the longest-serving players."

Even that experience, though, is tested when international double-headers come along. "Being away with Scotland for 10 days is boring," he confessed. "It's really just about training and sleeping. This time, we will not even get to see our families after Norway. Berti usually lets us, but he wants us all completely focused on Moldova."

At the heart of Ferguson's hotel gripe is a silver lining for Blackburn. The homebird who thought he could never leave Scotland is now so settled in Lytham that not even the call of his beloved Rangers could tempt him. "I read the stories that they wanted me," he said. "But my kids love their new home and I've not thought once about going back."

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