McKimmie still in doubt

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reports from Moscow

Scotland exchanged the wintry blast of so-called British Summer Time for the freezing temperatures of a Russian spring yesterday, but their misfortune with injuries accompanied them to Moscow.

Already deprived of 11 squad regulars, Craig Brown, the national manager, must today gauge whether Stewart McKimmie, his first-choice right-back, will be fit to face the Group Eight favourites, Russia, in tomorrow's European Championship qualifier here.

McKimmie, a mainstay of Scotland's defence, was unable to participate in Sunday's practice match at Hampden Park because of a foot injury. If the tenderness on his instep has not improved sufficiently for him to play in this morning's session at the match venue, the central Luzhniki Stadium, his place will go to Stephen Wright, his Aberdeen colleague.

Wright, 22, formerly captained Brown's Under-21 side, but has only two full caps, earned against Germany and Estonia two years ago. His probable return to active service comes at a time when, like most of his Pittodrie team-mates, his club form has been at its lowest ebb.

The doubts over McKimmie increased the likelihood that Brown will opt for a zonal defence featuring three centre-backs. That would mean an international debut at the age of 30 for Colin Calderwood, one of the players who has benefited most from Gerry Francis's regime at Tottenham, alongside Colin Hendry and Alan McLaren.

Such a strategy may suggest undue defeatism on Scotland's part. But there are no Baxters, Bremners, Mackays or Laws around these days - although the latter has made the trip as a radio pundit and still looks lively enough to strut his stuff - so Brown would arguably be playing to the limited strengths at his disposal.

Despite the return of Russia's "refuseniks", who missed last year's short- lived World Cup adventures, interest in the game is hardly high in the Russian capital. A crowd of around 20,000 is expected in the 80,000-capacity ground, where the last Scottish winner was Allan Wells in the 1980 Olympics.

Locally, greater interest has focused on the unprecedented industrial dispute involving dancers at the Bolshoi Ballet. Unfortunately for the beleaguered Brown, the prospect of Andrei Kanchelskis and his comrade strikers, Dmitri Radchenko and Sergei Kiriakov, coming out in sympathy is considered remote.