Hendry's higher ground

Phil Gordon talks to the Scottish defender eager to tackle Sweden today
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The Independent Online
Colin Hendry has a bit of a love-affair with France, so much so that he feels no year is complete unless he can get a bit of the Cote d'Azur sun on his back. Today the Blackburn defender can take a major step towards booking his ticket there for the summer of 1998, although he can forget any of the peace and tranquility if Scotland get it right against Sweden at Ibrox.

A victory in the Group Four qualifying tie in front of a 50,000 crowd will enhance Scotland's hopes of making the World Cup finals in the country Hendry adores. "I go to St Tropez every year to stay with a friend of mine there and we love it." The 30-year-old retreated to his Gallic bolthole last June to nurse some wounded pride after the Scots' exit from Euro 96. However, the abiding image of Hendry, close to tears, saluting the fans at Villa Park after that bitter-sweet night against Switzerland seems to have had a lasting effect.

For the first time in seven years, and in Craig Brown's reign as manager, Scotland will play in front of a sell-out crowd. Not even the visit of Italy in 1992 could do that. However, where Roberto Baggio failed, Hendry has succeeded. The Highlander is the symbol of a team that has helped a country to fall in love with its national side again.

Much of Scotland's excellent defensive record is down to the man from Ewood Park. Little wonder that, without their rock, Blackburn foundered during his recent injury absence. His return for Rovers last Sunday coincided with their first win of the season, defeating Liverpool 3-0.

"I could not have asked for a harder test in my first 90 minutes back than to face Liverpool and Robbie Fowler, Patrik Berger and then, when he went off, Stan Collymore," Hendry said.

During his recuperation, Hendry had a hard task keeping up with how Scotland were coping without him. "The Latvia game was on live on television in Scotland but I just managed to see a few highlights on Eurosport, although I guess the whole world saw the Estonia `game'."

Fifa's insistence that Scotland return to Estonia to play for their points means Hendry is captain against Sweden. Gary McAllister was to serve a one-match suspension against Estonia, but must now miss today's game. Hendry, however, is more than an adequate replacement and knows what his team must do. "It's in everyone's mind that we came out of the European finals in 1992 with a bit of credit and then failed to make the World Cup finals in America. We want to make sure we don't end up like that. Sure, we did okay in Euro 96 but it was a hell of a chance to reach the last eight and we simply didn't take it."

The display that cut down the Swiss in Birmingham unnerved one particular spectator; Sweden's manager, Tommy Svensson, who congratulated Brown that night with the plaudit: "That was marvellous - but don't play like that against us."

That, though, is precisely what the Scots intend to do. "We know we'll get a British-style game off the Swedes," Hendry said. "I expect to get a real battle from Kennet Andersson. He is now at Bologna but I played against in a friendly in Stockholm a year ago."

Hendry has never come with any star baggage and, consequently, has been unfeted until recent years. He only made the first of his 22 Scotland appearances at the age of 27.

Hendry reflected: "I was never an overnight sensation. But the older you get, the more you appreciate things. I have achieved some things, like the title with Blackburn, but I still have plenty of time to fulfil more ambitions - like the World Cup finals, for instance."

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