Morrison in line to pep up Scotland

Burley looks for Albion's 'clever' midfielder to inspire fresh hope at Hampden
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The Independent Online

Age Hareide, the Norway manager, said the other day: "The thing about Scotland is they still think they're a great football nation." The 55-year-old did not intend to belittle this afternoon's opponents. He was saying Scotland retain a belief about themselves and that today's World Cup qualifier in Glasgow will be no cakewalk.

Hareide knows British football well. He was an early Norwegian import to England in the early 1980s with Manchester City, and later played for Norwich in East Anglian derbies against an Ipswich team that then featured George Burley, Scotland's manager. Hareide's squad is also peppered with current and former Premier League players: Aston Villa's John Carew and Roma's former Liverpool full-back John Arne Riise foremost among them. Yet what Hareide might have missed are the subtleties of self-perception within Scottish football.

Nobody in the game – players, fans or coaches – truly feels Scotland are a "great football nation" any more. A long exile from major tournaments is evidence of status. The embarrassing decline that hit rock bottom under Berti Vogts is also still too fresh. But a spirited Euro 2008 qualifying gave new hope, and now, under a quietly ambitious Burley, Scotland are indeed aspiring to play attractive football. They know they are not great, far from it. But they knew they were once, decent, and would like to be again.

At least one bold statement about the way Burley wants to play should be West Bromwich Albion's James Morrison getting a first competitive start.

Morrison, a 22-year-old Darlington-born midfielder, played at every level for England except in the senior team before he switched allegiance. He should start alongside Manchester United's Darren Fletcher and Celtic's Scott Brown. "James is maturing all the time, he's looking stronger," Burley said. "He's been exceptional in training. That comes from doing very well in the Premiership. There is a belief in his play. There are areas he can still work at, but there are areas where he can do things that other people can't."

That three-man midfield line is likely to service a three-man attack of Shaun Maloney, James McFadden and Wolves's Chris Iwelumo, who is likely to be handed his Scotland debut at 30.

As Burley keeps saying, the system is not as important as the personnel. While his line-up will be a notional 4-3-3, it could also be 4-4-1-1, with Maloney just behind Iwelumo, and McFadden the fourth man in midfield. And under pressure, it could be 4-1-4-1, as it was at times in the most recent win, in Iceland. Brown will drop back to cover the back four, and Iwelumo will be the target man. Burley has given no firm indication he will refuse the option of picking Rangers' enigmatic front man, Kris Boyd, to replace the injured Kenny Miller. But neither has he talked up Boyd in quite the same way he has praised the recent Championship goals of Iwelumo, and the ability of Morrison. "James is a clever player who finds space for himself. Technically he gets in between the two lines, gets in between their midfield and their back four to receive the ball and I've been very pleased with him. I spoke to Tony Mowbray and he's very happy with him. James is pushing to get in the team. He's a good finisher, playing at the highest level week in, week out.

"I saw him this season against Arsenal and he did very well in central midfield." Scotland's regular captain, Barry Ferguson, remains injured, and Fletcher will wear the armband. Spurs' Alan Hutton is also out injured, and Kirk Broadfoot should continue at right-back. Rangers' David Weir will play at centre-half instead of the suspended Stephen McManus. Hareide will give Steffen Iversen a late fitness test before picking his front line.

Scotland (4-3-3 possible): Gordon (Sunderland); Broadfoot, Weir (both Rangers), Caldwell (Celtic), Naysmith (Sheff Utd); Brown (Celtic), Fletcher (Man Utd), Morrison (West Brom); McFadden (Birmingham), Iwelumo (Wolverhampton), Maloney (Celtic).

Norway (4-4-2, possible): Knudsen (Stabaek); Hogli (Tromso), Hangeland (Fulham), Hoiland (Stabaek), Riise (Roma); Braaten (Toulouse), Grindheim (Heerenveen), Winsnes (Stromsgodset), Stromstad (Le Mans); Carew (A Villa), Iversen (Roseborg).

Referee: M Busacca (Switzerland).