Thompson turns up Braveheart rhetoric

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The Independent Football

It was left to a fringe performer, Steven Thompson, to deliver a cutting riposte to John Arne Riise's crass prediction that tomorrow's World Cup qualifier between Scotland and Norway would be "a war". According to the Rangers striker, who revels in a physical contest, the Norwegian had better be prepared to back up his words with deeds.

Riise, pressed to articulate how events at Hampden Park might unfold, had envisaged "kicking, fighting and tackling", with the Belgian referee, Paul Allaerts, likely to be busy. Replying to the Liverpool defender's comments, Thompson said: "We'll do our talking on the pitch. Hopefully, his heart is as big as his mouth."

The Braveheart rhetoric is a familiar part of the build-up to Scotland's bigger matches, and Riise's Premiership pedigree makes him ideal for demonisation as a proxy Englishman. Unhappily for Scotland, however, Berti Vogts, lost his human claymore yesterday when Steven Pressley became the latest player to pull out of the squad.

Pressley, who followed Nigel Quashie and Neil McCann in withdrawing, had struggled through the week with a virus but hoped to recover for the Norway match and Scotland's away game with Moldova next Wednesday. But the piratical Heart of Midlothian defender had to concede defeat and leave the Scots' Dumbarton base.

Gary Caldwell, whose brother Steven was called up on Wednesday and may now play alongside Andy Webster at centre-back, admitted Pressley's departure left Scotland in a "difficult" position. "Elvis [Pressley] and Andy had a good partnership and obviously know each other well from their club," said the Hibernian player. "But we are working on it and we'll get it right in time for Saturday."

Things could be worse for Vogts: his captain, Barry Ferguson, has a sore hamstring. But the Blackburn and former Rangers midfielder's willingness to represent his country of late has made a mockery of claims that he used to cry off too readily, and he is confident he will be fit.

Scotland are often at their best when written off, or when opponents are portrayed as having slighted them. Claus Lundekvam, Norway's Southampton defender, meant no disrespect when he remarked that Ferguson and Paul Dickov were the only Scots he recognised, but his words will be grist to the propaganda mill.

"We need to watch for both of them," Lundekvam said. "But to be honest, I don't know much about the other players, so I can't really say who impresses me. What I do know is that Scotland are very hard-working and have also got quality. It will be a physical game, and if we don't match them it will be difficult for us. If we do match them, then we're in for a good game."

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