O'Connor injury adds to Scotland's daunting task

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O'Connor, the 22-year-old from Hibernian, has a back injury that will also keep him out of next Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Norway. Scotland had already been deprived of Lee McCulloch, the Wigan Athletic midfielder, so the withdrawal of a player who scored in this month's friendly in Austria has further depleted their manager's attacking options.

"It's disappointing," Smith said. "O'Connor is a young player who was just coming into the team and he would have come into our thoughts for these games." Two uncapped forwards, Lee Miller, the Dundee United and former Bristol City player, and Craig Beattie, of Celtic, have been called into the squad for the games at Hampden Park and in Oslo.

By contrast, Lippi was sufficiently contented with his striking options to brush aside media claims that the omission of Cassano may have been an error. The Sicilian, who scored in two of Italy's three fixtures during Euro 2004, is involved in a contractual dispute with Roma, leaving the coach unconvinced that he has played enough football over the summer.

Lippi's logic is easy to follow. Scotland's squad have 27 international goals between them, whereas Italy boast 78. Alessandro Del Piero alone has 25 - and he is unlikely to start the Group Five game in Glasgow. Christian Vieri has 22 goals to his name, Francesco Totti eight, and Milan's new signing from Parma, the 23-year-old Alberto Gilardino, has scored on three occasions for his country.

All of which, like the table which shows the Scots lying fifth out of six countries, seven points behind Italy, makes the task appear hopeless. But the memory of how they ran Italy close at the San Siro in March before losing 2-0, allied to the prospect of raucous, sell-out support, prompted Smith's captain, Barry Ferguson, to sound a rallying call. "If we play like we did there, we have a chance," the Rangers midfielder said.

Ferguson added: "If we are being realistic, the Italians are going to win the group. They have the best players and best squad. But Saturday is a one-off game - and we have every chance of beating them."

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