SCOTLAND manager Gordon Strachan faces a growing list of injury doubts for next Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Croatia, but will not be rushed into calling up potential replacements.
At least half a dozen members of the 28-strong squad named last week have fitness concerns but, as things stand, all are expected to report for duty on Saturday. They will then be assessed by the Scotland medical staff before Strachan and his coaching team make a decision about who cannot take part and who, if anyone, should be drafted in to take their place.
Wigan defender Gary Caldwell has not officially pulled out yet, but is expected to confirm his withdrawal in the coming days. The former Celtic and Hibernian player is due to have surgery on a long-standing hip complaint.
Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths, who played for Celtic and Hibs respectively in Sunday’s Scottish Cup final at Hampden, are also not certain to be involved. Brown, who captained his team to an emphatic 3-0 victory, has an arthritic hip which has curtailed his ability to play too many games in quick succession. However, even if he is advised it would be better not to play in Zagreb, he has been known in the past to decide against taking such advice.
Griffiths has a thigh strain, which clearly affected his performance in the Cup final. Hibs manager Pat Fenlon said after the match that he had picked up the injury during the game itself, and Hibs denied reports in the build-up to the game that the striker had needed a scan before being passed fit to play, However, no matter when or how the injury arose, the possibility remains that Griffiths will be advised to rest rather than play next week.
Brighton midfielder Liam Bridcutt is also in doubt because of a knock and is rated just 50-50 by Scotland staff. According to one source in the camp, the 24-year-old is keen to play if at all possible and will be given every chance to prove his fitness.
Even if Brown and Bridcutt both pull out, Strachan will still have ten midfielders to select from, so may feel he does not need additional cover in that department, but it could be a different matter in defence, where Danny Fox of Southampton and Lee Wallace of Rangers are also doubts because of knocks picked up on club duty. If Wallace and Fox pull out in addition to Caldwell, that would leave only six defenders from the original nine chosen by Strachan, who named four strikers, including Griffiths, and three goalkeepers.
Scotland have no hope of qualifying after picking up just two points from their six matches to date in Group A. Croatia and Belgium are joint top on 16 points, nine points clear of third-placed Serbia. The game, at Zagreb’s Maksimir Stadium next Friday, kicks off at 8.15pm