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Scotland Squad v Ireland










Same Old Story

There's a distinct whiff of deja vu in the air these days. The SPL have had their winter break and the first BBC televised League match afterwards ends up being called off because of bad weather. The weather has also affected cup replays - and not just at the lesser grounds either - the match at Pittodrie had to be postponed on account of poor travelling conditions. We've said this before but make no apologies for returning to the subject. The winter break is a great idea - if we could guarantee when the Scottish winter would be.

On top of that the authorities choose to play the League Cup semi-finals in February then wonder why Hampden isn't packed. Actually the attendance for the Rangers - Hearts game, at just under 32,000 wasn't that bad, all things considered, and the Celtic - Dundee United figure was affected by live TV coverage. But a return to completing the League Cup by the end of October would have guaranteed a much better turnout for both semi-finals.

These issues and problems arise year after year. Will we ever see action taken?

Yet the worst aspect of the 'seen it all before' feeling comes from looking at the squad for the international against Ireland next week. One of the refreshing things about the Vogts/Bonhof combination was that they came to Scottish football without being hindered by the past. Players from all clubs were given a chance. Some have proven to be worthy of the opportunity, others less so. That's the way it should be, although we do have to query the constant selection of Kevin Kyle and the reliance on players unable to command a regular start for their clubs.

One player we won't be seeing is Dominic Matteo who has announced his retirement from international football. While Matteo's impact as a Scotland player has been minimal to say the least, news that yet another player is prepared to turn his back on his country is surely dispiriting.

But our main gripe with Berti is that he appears to have turned to that favourite tactic of yesteryear. If a player gets a run out a few times in a Rangers/Celtic strip then he's in the squad. How else can the presence of Bob Malcolm be explained? Even Rangers fans have been left scratching their heads at his selection. Malcolm has a lot to do to prove himself at club level let alone internationally. Yet two defenders who have been outstanding for their clubs this season - Dundee's Lee Wilkie and Greg Shields of Kilmarnock - have been omitted.

We've no complaint about the rest of the unusually-strong Ibrox contingent. Steven Thompson also has a lot to prove but he was a Vogts favourite while still at Tannadice so his inclusion in the squad is only to be expected. As are those of McCann and Ross while Barry Ferguson has been playing out of his skin this season.

It would be heartening to see him finally perform for Scotland as he does for Rangers.

With five from Rangers and four from Celtic, there's certainly an old-time feel to the squad. But questions need to be asked about the Parkhead contingent too. Rab Douglas is injured but still included and Paul Lambert's selection was a foregone conclusion. Nor will too many criticise the choice of Jackie McNamara who has been playing well in recent weeks. But Jamie Smith? Are we to seriously believe that a player at any Scottish club outside the Old Firm would be in line for a Scotland cap after playing just FOUR League games all season?

No, the selection of Malcolm and Smith is a backward step. It may pull in a few punters at the gate but I doubt even that. There are sufficient Old Firm players already there to guarantee a reasonable attendance.

One place that would have attracted a few more spectators to see a local boy in action is Rugby Park, where the Under-21 match will take place 24 hours before the big game. And while Peter Canero of Kilmarnock is in the squad, striker Kris Boyd isn't. Boyd is just 19 and has scored nine goals so far this season - some of them spectacular. Yet despite this and his regular appearances in the SPL, plus the fact tht he was called up to the last squad, he has been left out. Neither Vogts nor Bonhof have seen him in representative action.

Boyd's best bet is to keep on scoring goals. Eventually he will get his chance. Alternatively, he could move to the Old Firm in which case he'd probably go straight into the senior squad. Cynical? Maybe, but that's the way it seems right now.

The brave new world is starting to look a lot like the old one from where we're sat.


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