Smith questions O'Connor commitment after no-show

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The Independent Online

The Scotland manager, Walter Smith, yesterday expressed his disappointment with his absentee striker Garry O'Connor. The Lokomotiv Moscow forward has been dropped from the squad for the European Championship qualifier against Ukraine in Kiev tomorrow after failing to meet up with the rest of the squad at their East Kilbride base on Sunday.

The 23-year-old former Hibernian forward, who moved to Russia in March in a £1.6m deal, said over the weekend that his family had not settled in Moscow and he was considering a return to Britain. It is rumoured his no-show was due to feeling the need to be with his homesick girlfriend.

Yet the Scotland manager believes the lack of contact from O'Connor has led to a "question mark" over his commitment to the national team. "He has not managed to contact us with a relevant reason," Smith said. "So there is obviously a question mark over whether he wants to be involved at an international level or not.

"The only contact we have had is from Gary Mackay, his agent, who was in touch with our administrator to say that he had no idea where the player was. Obviously, I am a little disappointed as, at the very least, there could have been some contact."

O'Connor apologised to Smith, the Scottish Football Association and the Scotland staff in a statement earlier in the day. The forward has also promised to speak to Smith, the former Rangers and Everton manager. Smith says that the incident will not necessarily mean the end of the striker's international career, which stands at nine caps after the 1-0 win at Hampden over France at the weekend. He said: "If a player has a relevant reason for not turning up, then we have to accept that."

"If it was a player of the stature of a Denis Law or Kenny Dalglish, it would be a huge loss, but he is a young player just starting his international career."

In O'Connor's statement, he said: "I apologise to the SFA, Walter Smith and his staff for my non-appearance for the flight to Kiev for this week's international.

"At the earliest opportunity, I hope to meet with Walter Smith, face-to-face, to explain my reasons."

The timing of O'Connor's absence is ironic with the squad set to play in Kiev as they attempt to continue their 100 per cent run in the Euro 2008 qualifiers after winning all three matches.

Better news for the Scots is the return of Kenny Miller, who is likely to start up front tomorrow night.

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