McCann's cameo call-up exposes Scotland defence

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The Independent Football

Berti Vogts is accustomed to losing players during the build-up to Scotland's matches - no fewer than five defenders were not even fit to be considered for the squad he announced yesterday - but the timing of Neil McCann's withdrawal almost certainly set a Scottish record.

Berti Vogts is accustomed to losing players during the build-up to Scotland's matches - no fewer than five defenders were not even fit to be considered for the squad he announced yesterday - but the timing of Neil McCann's withdrawal almost certainly set a Scottish record.

McCann, the Southampton and former Rangers winger, was in the 20-man party for the World Cup qualifying fixtures against Norway and Moldova on Saturday and Wednesday respectively for barely 10 minutes. It was then confirmed that he would be unavailable due to a hamstring strain, although Vogts highlighted the dearth of defensive options created by the absence of Christian Dailly, Malky Mackay, Jackie McNamara, Lee Wilkie and John Kennedy.

Their indisposition leaves the Scotland manager little choice other than to pair Heart of Midlothian's Steven Pressley and Andy Webster at centre-back - always assuming that Pressley recovers from a virus in time for Saturday's sell-out at Hampden Park. The player predictably known as "Elvis" could be a key figure in Vogts' plans, especially with John Carew leading Norway's attack.

"We will be playing against a team who are big and physically strong, particularly up front, where Carew stands almost 7ft," Vogts said, adding inches to the Roma and former Valencia striker to emphasise his point. "We must do something special against him. You need tall defenders, so I'm very disappointed we'll be missing so many."

The circumstances could be propitious, however, for one of the forgotten men of the Scotland set-up. Ian Murray, the 23-year-old utility player from Hibernian, won his only cap as a substitute in the 3-1 defeat of Canada in a friendly on his club ground two years ago. He was then struck down by injury and seemed in danger of becoming one of the numerous choices by Vogts to fall by the international wayside.

Murray is now fit and in form, his versatility allowing Vogts greater room to manoeuvre. "He can play in the holding position, in defence or as an attacking midfielder," the German said.

Scotland drew their opening group game last month, 0-0 against Slovenia in Glasgow, while a Norway side now managed by the ex-Manchester City defender Age Hareide followed up an opening loss in Italy with a stalemate at home to Belarus. Given those results, Vogts deduced that it was a must-win match for Norway - but not for the Scots. Surveying the group as a whole, he added portentously: "It's very, very hard."

Vogts also cast doubt on comments attributed to him in a German newspaper interview, in which he apparently confirmed he would leave the Scotland post when his contract expired (in the summer of 2006 if he took them to the World Cup finals, or in December next year if they were to fail). "I haven't yet made up my mind as to what I will do," he said enigmatically. "I'm very happy and I like the way of life here."

SCOTLAND SQUAD (v Norway, Saturday, and Moldova 13 Oct: C Gordon (Hearts), D Marshall (Celtic), R Anderson (Aberdeen), G Caldwell (Hibernian), G Naysmith (Everton), S Pressley (Hearts), A Webster (Hearts), C Cameron (Wolves), B Ferguson (Blackburn Rovers), D Fletcher (Manchester United), G Holt (Norwich City), I Murray (Hibernian), S Pearson (Celtic), N Quashie (Portsmouth), S Crawford (Plymouth Argyle), P Dickov (Blackburn Rovers), J McFadden (Everton), K Miller (Wolves), S Thompson (Rangers).

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