Smith calls up O'Neil for daunting trip to San Siro

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Brian O'Neil will follow the Luther Blissett trail - from Vicarage Road to San Siro - after being named in Walter Smith's first Scotland squad, for the World Cup qualifier against Italy on 26 March.

Brian O'Neil will follow the Luther Blissett trail - from Vicarage Road to San Siro - after being named in Walter Smith's first Scotland squad, for the World Cup qualifier against Italy on 26 March.

On consecutive Saturdays, the 32-year-old Preston North End defender will play at Watford in the Coca-Cola Championship and, if selected, for the second-bottom Scots in Milan against the unbeaten Group Five leaders. The former Celtic, Aberdeen, Derby County and VfL Wolfsburg player will not be alone in making such a leap in status as Smith seeks an unlikely winning start with several players who are not first choices for their clubs and others who ply their trade below Premiership level in England.

The former Rangers and Everton manager views O'Neil as a possible replacement for the injured Christian Dailly. Having won his sixth cap in the 2000 defeat by Australia, under Craig Brown, O'Neil was not used during Berti Vogts' 32-month reign.

Paul Hartley, whose form as an attacking midfielder for Heart of Midlothian has led to interest from Celtic, is included for the first time at 28.

"I've been really impressed every time I've seen him," said Smith, who has also recalled David Weir after the 34-year-old Everton defender's falling-out with Vogts. Weir retired from Scotland duty because he was unhappy with comments made by the German after the Euro 2004 qualifier in the Faroe Islands. Smith, who took him to Goodison Park from Hearts, persuaded him to return for a training camp last month.

Smith confirmed Celtic's Rab Douglas as his first-choice goalkeeper, despite his high-profile error to gift Rangers a goal in their victory last month. "Any keeper makes mistakes, and if you're with the Old Firm it gets highlighted," Smith said.

Hibernian's Garry O'Connor is included among the strikers, but Derek Riordan, who has outscored his club-mate by 18 goals to 15 this season, is in the Under-21 squad. Wigan's Lee McCulloch, who made his debut in Vogts' last competitive match, the 1-1 draw in Moldova last October, is included as replacement for the injured Darren Fletcher of Manchester United.

SCOTLAND SQUAD v Italy (World Cup qualifier, Milan, 26 March): Douglas (Celtic), Gordon (Hearts), Anderson (Aberdeen), Caldwell (Hibernian), McNamara (Celtic), McNamee (Livingston), Naysmith (Everton), Pressley (Hearts), Webster (Hearts), Weir (Everton), Ferguson (Rangers), Hartley (Hearts), McCann (Southampton), McCulloch (Wigan), O'Neil (Preston), Quashie (Southampton), Crawford (Dundee Utd), Dickov (Blackburn), McFadden (Everton), Miller (Wolves), O'Connor (Hibernian), Thompson (Rangers).

* Roy Keane returns to the Republic of Ireland squad for their World Cup qualifier in Tel Aviv next week. The Newcastle right-back Stephen Carr is also available. The Walsall goalkeeper Joe Murphy is the only other addition to the squad.

Comments