Hreidarsson absence eases Scottish worries over Ferguson

Scotland have been boosted by the news that Iceland will be without their key defender Hermann Hreidarsson for Saturday's Euro 2004 qualifier in Reykjavik. The Ipswich Town centre-half is suffering from a back injury and has missed their last three games.

The Iceland coach Atli Edvaldsson said: "We will have to do without him which is a shame because he is a very important player for us. He is one of the first names on the team sheet and has been playing very well for us."

News of Hreidarsson's absence will be welcomed by the Scots but there was no such luck with Chelsea's Eidur Gudjohnsen, as the striker has been passed fit.

Edvaldsson, whose brother Johannes used to play for Celtic, was delighted to learn that Scotland manager Berti Vogts had injury problems of his own to deal with. The Rangers pair Barry Ferguson and Neil McCann are doubtful and Edvaldsson was not surprised Sunday's Old Firm derby had led to casualties.

"My brother tells me people take no prisoners in those games," Edvaldsson said, "and you can expect injuries. I am surprised they have Celtic and Rangers games before Scotland games, not the other way round. Maybe people are more interested in these games than the national team's games."

Ferguson is suffering from a hip injury, having taken pain-killing injections to play on Sunday and in the Uefa Cup on Thursday. McCann played in both matches as a substitute but is suffering from a hamstring problem.

The pair were among six players who missed the Scotland squad's first training session at Dumbarton's Strathclyde Homes Stadium yesterday. The Celtic captain Paul Lambert was given extra rest following the Old Firm derby, as were the Hearts pair Steven Pressley and Scott Severin, who also had a game on Sunday.

Vogts is keen to pair Ferguson and Lambert in the centre of midfield in Reykjavik and has certainly not ruled out the Rangers player. "He has started treatment with his club and I think he will train with the team on Thursday," Vogts confirmed. "He likes to play for Scotland and would like to play against the Iceland team on Saturday."

Ferguson has had an unfortunate history of picking up injuries ahead of Scotland games and, despite his European experience at club level, has only played 12 times for his country. But the German was hopeful that another pain-killing injection would not be necessary. "I don't think he will need one," Vogts added.

The other player not to train was Middlesbrough's Robbie Stockdale, who picked up a slight strain at the weekend but is expected to be available. Celtic goalkeeper Robert Douglas was back in training after making two crucial errors against Rangers but Vogts said the player remained his first choice. "Anybody can make mistakes. Robert made a mistake and it was not the best of days for him He is number one at Celtic and he is my number one."

McCann is the main worry and if he were forced to pull out it would leave Vogts' strike options limited. Sunderland's Kevin Kyle played against the Faroe Islands in last month's infamous 2-2 draw but looks unlikely to be anything other than a substitute as he and the promising Nottingham Forest midfielder Gareth Williams have been moved into the Under-21 squad that plays Iceland on Friday night.

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