Further blows to Scotland

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Scotland's almost negligible chances of qualifying for the World Cup were looking even more remote yesterday after Barry Ferguson, Jackie McNamara and Dominic Matteo all pulled out with injuries.

For Craig Brown's side to finish runners-up in Group Six and reach a play-off, they need to beat Latvia by several goals at Hampden Park on Saturday and hope Belgium beat Croatia in Zagreb on the same day. But Brown confirmed the Rangers captain, Celtic wing-back and Leeds defender will take no part this weekend.

His problems could get even worse with the Everton defender Gary Naysmith and Steven Pressley of Hearts also struggling with injury. But Brown has so far resisted the temptation to draft any more players into the squad as cover.

Meanwhile, the Wales squad have announced their support for their beleaguered manager, Mark Hughes. With Wales long since out of the World Cup reckoning and now on the brink of an unwanted record of 13 games without a victory, the longest in the country's 125-year footballing history, the murmurings about Hughes' position have been growing.

But the striker John Hartson had words of support as he and his team-mates assembled for Saturday's final World Cup Group Five qualifier against Belarus in Cardiff.

"If you ask any of his players, they will tell you that Mark is definitely the only man for the job," Hartson said. "I know all the boys would agree with me. I think that if anything was to happen to Mark, it would be a massive backward step, I really do."