Strachan silent on Scotland demands but says all fit for Old Firm match

GORDON Strachan has insisted that his preoccupation with beating Rangers at Ibrox tomorrow takes precedence over becoming involved in any controversial postscript to Scotland's match against Croatia on Wednesday.

On the day he welcomed his four players back from international duty unscathed, the Celtic manager refused to extend the debate that had accompanied events earlier in the week, when Rangers withdrew four players and Celtic one from the game that would mark the beginning of George Burley's tenure as manager of the national team.

Of the quartet from Parkhead who played, midfielder Paul Hartley and central defender Stephen McManus completed the 90 minutes, while Scott Brown was replaced by Gary Teale after 65 minutes and Gary Caldwell made way for Russell Anderson five minutes later.

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Strachan initially offered a considered "no comment" when the subject was raised of his players' involvement in the international on a night when all of Walter Smith's were rested apart from striker Kris Boyd – he played the last 18 minutes at Hampden – ahead of the crucial Old Firm collision.

He managed simultaneously to body-swerve a potential squabble and make his attitude to the issue quite clear when asked a hypothetical question: how would he react if the SFA invoked the Fifa rule which prohibits a player from turning out for his club within five days of an international from which he has withdrawn because of injury?

"Haven't given it any thought," said Strachan. "I'm too busy trying to prepare a team for a very important match against Rangers to be concerned with the politics of the game. As you know, there are much better politicians than me.

"For us, it's quite simple. On the question of players taking part in an international, we let the Scotland manager decide and we get on with our own business. We leave it up to George (Burley], it's his decision who he wants to play. There was no contact between George and us, no compromises arranged over how long any particular player should be given in the match. They're his decisions, not ours."

But there was unease when Strachan stated that Barry Robson was "100 per cent fit" and then stopped any further questions when asked about the player's unavailability for Scotland the previous evening.

Strachan would be relieved to have all of his players available for the weekend, particularly as there was a slight scare when Brown collapsed under a challenge by Croatian midfielder Nico Kovac and had to be treated as he lay on the turf.

"Big Mick (McManus] had the little bumps and knocks you get in a hard match, but he'll be fine. I wasn't worried about Broonie, because he goes down under tackles quite regularly. The physios haven't reported any problems, so they all seem to be okay.

Scott McDonald missed his match with Australia, but it was mainly because of the long flight. He has a slight calf problem, and being up in the air that long, there's a possibility that it will swell up. If his game had been here at home, for example, there's every chance he would have been able to play."

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Victory, or at the very least the avoidance of defeat, in tomorrow's showdown seems essential for Celtic, already three points behind Rangers, who have a match in hand. Strachan took issue with the suggestion that the Ibrox side have won the last three Old Firm games by out-muscling Celtic and that he may have to change his team's style of play to achieve the required result.

"No, that's just not the case," he said. "Sure, you need mental and physical toughness for this kind of challenge, but that's how it's been in this fixture for over a hundred years. There was a time, when I was a player, especially with Manchester United in England, when our team would be changed to accommodate opponents who were especially physical. There were times when it could be pretty evil, really quite brutal. A lot of people say the game was much better twenty to thirty years ago, but it's not true. The game is more sanitised now, it's easier to play than it was in the seventies and eighties. And the product is better.

"Look at the relatively small players you see now in midfield at the biggest clubs. Look at Barcelona with Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Deco, Paul Scholes at Manchester United, and Luka Modric for Croatia last night. Smallish men, terrific players, and mentally strong.

"That's what's required in an Old Firm match. We didn't produce that when we lost 3-0 at Ibrox last October and there is no question that the better team won on the day. It's also unarguable that the most consistent team at the moment is at the top of the league. We have to try to make sure that that changes."

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