McFadden's race against time to face Italy

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James McFadden has not given up hope of making a comeback from a broken foot in time for Scotland's crucial Euro 2008 qualifier in Italy. But the Everton forward, 23, insists he will not jeopardise his country's qualification hopes by returning from the injury too soon.

He suffered a fractured metatarsal while playing head tennis at training and is touch and go to be fit in time for the match in Bari on 28 March. McFadden said: "I've not given up hope of playing against Italy, although I'm not going to put stress upon myself to get back for it because that can only lead to disappointment.

"I've got an outside chance of making the Italy game. I'm hopeful. There is nothing negative about the way I'm approaching my recovery but if I'm not ready, I'm not ready."

There is no doubt McFadden is one of the key players in the Scotland team and new manager Alex McLeish would benefit greatly from his presence in Italy. But McFadden added: "If I play in a reserve game and feel I'm a mile off the pace, then I'm not going to say I'm ready to play against Italy.

"If I'm fit, and the manager thinks I'm fit then I'll be ready to play, but I'm not going to kid anyone. No-one will benefit from me telling people I'm fit if I'm not. I've got a pin in it so it should be easier for me to return to training as I can put a bit more pressure on it sooner.

"If you have a pin you can go through the pain barrier because you know it's there and will help you. Because of the pin we can be a bit more aggressive and get back sooner than later."

A quirk of fate saw McFadden take part in head tennis, which resulted in the injury, but he believes it was only a matter of time before he suffered damage to the foot. He said: "I never normally play head tennis, I was just messing about before training, but it was going to happen. It wasn't the fact it was head tennis. It was giving me bother but I did not think it was my metatarsal, I thought it was just weak. I just landed funnily and heard a bone snap. I turned round and said 'I think I've broken my foot'. I went for an X-ray and that confirmed it was broken."

McLeish has hinted that the goalkeeper Craig Gordon could play in the Euro 2008 double-header against Georgia and Italy - even if he is out of the Hearts team.

Gordon was dropped for the last two Hearts matches but McLeish said: "The situation is not ideal, but having met Craig, there is a big mature lad there.

"He's got[goalkeeping coach] Jim Stewart keeping him fit. According to Jim, if he's still not playing by 24 March, I've been assured there will be no problem playing him.

"You would have to ask the Hearts gaffer Valdas Ivanauskas if it's short term, but he said that he's still the number one. I'd like to see him back in his rightful position if that's the case."