Scotland squad: Tough choices but Craig Levein insists he has best men for job
CRAIG Levein has no doubt he has picked the best men for the job of getting Scotland’s 2014 World Cup campaign off to a flying start after making what he described as his most difficult squad selection so far.
The Scotland manager named a 24-man party for the Group A qualifying double header against Serbia and Macedonia on 8 and 11 September, finding no place in it for Celtic midfielder Kris Commons, whose impressive early season form has helped his club reach the Champions League group stage. Levein will also be without the services of Celtic captain Scott Brown, who is seeking specialist advice for his ongoing injury problems.
But Besiktas goalkeeper Allan McGregor has been included, despite the groin injury he sustained in the friendly against Australia earlier this month.
The omission of Commons is perhaps the most eye-catching, but Levein says the 28-year-old is only one of a number of candidates who can count themselves unfortunate not to be involved. “He has had a great start to the season,” admitted Levein. “But it’s very difficult. I had 36 players on the list and had to choose 24. It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in picking a squad. The next challenge is picking a team. There are players who just did not deserve to be left out. But I can’t pick 28 or 30 players in a squad. There has to be a finite number and that number is 24.
“Craig Mackail-Smith is one I feel most sorry for – he doesn’t deserve to be left out. But we are so strong in the attacking and wide positions. It is a huge step forward for us when we are in a position to leave Kris Commons out. I feel I’ve picked the best squad available and I wholeheartedly believe in this group of players.”
McGregor’s inclusion was a bonus for Levein who had anticipated being without the former Rangers player when he limped off in the first half of the 3-1 win over Australia at Easter Road. He has yet to play for Besiktas, but has indicated his belief he will be ready for Scotland.
“I don’t know if I need to take a risk on Allan,” added Levein. “It will depend on what happens in training. He will arrive on
Sunday. I spoke to him this week and he has been training with Besiktas. He has not done a full training session as such, but he is feeling good. When a player gets to a certain age, they are the best judges of how fit they are. Allan is making very positive noises. There is still a slight, nagging doubt about him in the back of my mind, but I want to give him every possible opportunity to play. Not having Allan, and
then only having two young goalkeepers as back-up would be a concern. But Matt Gilks has played a lot of football, he is an experienced player. He made his debut at Easter Road and played exceptionally well.
“I’ve got huge faith in Gilksy, he’s been round about the squad for a while now. He’s had to be patient because of the quality of goalkeepers we have. David Marshall has played in a lot of big matches, he is an experienced goalkeeper. I wouldn’t have any qualms whatsoever about either of those guys playing.”
Levein also has to address the absence of Brown in midfield and revealed he is considering utilising Wigan skipper Gary Caldwell, who is line to captain the team against Serbia on the occasion of his 50th cap, in a pivotal position. The central defender played as the holding midfielder in Levein’s favoured 4-1-4-1 formation against Australia. “I did that because I was concerned Scott Brown may not be available for these qualifiers,” he said. “It was a chance to gauge whether it fitted in with what I’d been thinking. Gary played very well, giving us an anchor and some solidity in that area which was beneficial to the other midfield players. I now considering that as the position he could play against Serbia.”
Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher has not been named in the squad as he continues his recovery from a serious bowel condition, but he will again join up with Levein and the rest of the players for the duration of the gathering.
Levein is determined to follow Celtic in delivering some positive news for the Scottish game, the SPL title holders having booked their place in the Champions League group stage for the first time in four years. After a rancorous close season dominated by the Rangers crisis, Levein hopes the national team can prove a unifying force.
“There have been a lot of things that have happened this summer that all of us wish hadn’t happened,” added Levein. “Scottish football has laid its soul bare this summer. I just hope if there are any cracks that have appeared they can be filled in really quickly.
“My intention as international manager is for us to do as well as we possibly can to get everyone thinking about what’s happening on the field. It’s important to me we perform to a really good standard. I want Celtic’s success to continue and every single person, every Scottish person, to be hugely proud of their national team, no matter which side they support, and it’s possible to get everyone behind us to get that atmosphere which can have the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.”
Scotland squad in full
Matt Gilks (Blackpool)
Allan McGregor (Besiktas)
David Marshall (Cardiff City)
Christophe Berra (Wolves)
Gary Caldwell (Wigan Athletic)
Daniel Fox (Southampton)
Grant Hanley (Blackburn Rovers)
Alan Hutton (Aston Villa)
Russell Martin (Norwich City)
Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic)
Andy Webster (Heart of Midlothian)
Charlie Adam (Liverpool)
Don Cowie (Cardiff City)
Graham Dorrans (West Bromwich Albion)
James Forrest (Celtic)
Shaun Maloney (Wigan Athletic)
James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)
Matt Phillips (Blackpool)
Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City)
Ross McCormack (Leeds United)
Jamie Mackie (Queens Park Rangers)
Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Steven Naismith (Everton)
Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn Rovers)
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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