McLeish relief that Brown is fit and ready for Italy battle

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The Independent Online

The Scotland manager, Alex McLeish, admits he breathed a sigh of relief when rumours of Scott Brown suffering a broken leg proved greatly exaggerated.

McLeish feared he would be forced to head into next week's make-or-break Euro 2008 qualifier against Italy without one of his key players, and that his plans for Scotland's biggest game in a generation would be thrown into disarray. He was in Barcelona prior to Rangers' Champions League tie at the Nou Camp and did not see the tackle from Benfica's Augustin Binya which could have kept Brown out for months.

Afterwards, the Celtic midfielder accused his opponent of trying to break his leg but, thankfully for club and country, he did not suffer any serious damage.

For McLeish, news of the sickening challenge meant frantic phone calls and anxious moments, and he is relieved that he will still be able to call on the services of Brown when the Azzurri come calling next Saturday.

"It was a very poor tackle, there is no doubt about it," McLeish said. "In Barcelona yesterday I was making phone calls home to see how he was. I was getting all sorts of stories over in Barcelona about broken legs and him not going to make it and then we heard that he was fine. I'm delighted, it's great news, fantastic.

"He has been an integral part of the team in the past few games, since cementing his introduction into the international set-up.

A win over Italy would secure Scotland's place at next summer's finals – despite being drawn in a group which also includes France and Ukraine – and McLeish believes victory at Hampden would go down as the greatest result in the nation's history.

"It would be for me," he said. "Especially given that three or four years ago many of the same lads who are involved in the Scotland squad now were written off as no-hopers."

For a man who has already masterminded Scotland's famous victory in France, as well as making history with Rangers by guiding a Scottish club to the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time, this is certainly the biggest game of his managerial career.

"This is the most important game so far because of what is at stake and also in terms of prestige," McLeish said. "If we can beat the world champions here in Glasgow, it would be some feat. It has been a great feat already. By getting 24 points in this group, we have already exceeded the expectation levels."

The psychological warfare has now gone into overdrive, with France coach Raymond Domenech now writing off Scotland's chances despite previously backing them to qualify.

"That tells me that they are apprehensive," he said.

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