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Scotland prepare for the Maradona X factor

* Ewan Murray

George Burley has told his Scotland players to prepare for global attention at Hampden Park a week today when the appearance of Diego Maradona in the visiting dug-out will add excitement to the friendly visit of Argentina.

Maradona's appointment as Argentina's manager has prompted media applications from as far afield as Fiji and Australia for the encounter and up to 450 journalists are expected to descend on Glasgow. Lionel Messi is a notable exception from Maradona's first squad while Burley named his own, 26-man party yesterday.

"It is now a huge game because of the Maradona factor and Argentina will want to make a positive impression on him," said Scotland's manager. "All the eyes of the world will be on this game. Am I disappointed Messi won't play? If he did I would need to play with three left-backs."

Burley could not resist a dig at his assistant, Terry Butcher, who played in the infamous match between England and Argentina at the 1986 World Cup. "When Terry gets to the bench on Wednesday, it is the nearest he will have got to Maradona," said a smiling Burley, who faced a teenage Maradona when Argentina visited Hampden in 1979, a match in which the Argentinian scored his first international goal. "He was amazing. He could run quicker with the ball than without it. The players are all looking forward to playing against the Argentina team of today, players like Sergio Aguero and Javier Mascherano. And it is a big game for Maradona, his first game. He will be coaching his players to go out and play on the ball, to take people on and dribble with it."

Though Celtic have six players in Burley's squad their manager, Gordon Strachan, has no qualms over such a large contingent facing Argentina, despite an injury crisis that has led to him banning five-a-side matches in training.

"We all know who we are playing against and it should be a game for everyone to enjoy because we'll see some terrific players," Strachan said. "It is a game where pressure should be lifted from everybody. We should leave the Scotland team alone to just enjoy themselves for a week."

While Burley has recalled the fit-again Barry Ferguson and Alan Hutton, there is no place for Kris Boyd. The Rangers striker said he would not represent his country under the current management; Burley has again questioned Boyd's desire.

"I will pick strikers who are scoring goals but they have to be committed to Scotland and that will never change," he said. "Since Jock Stein was manager, whether you played or not you had to be committed. I didn't put David Weir in the squad and will not pick him for friendly games. He is 38 and accepts the situation but also made it clear he is willing to help out at any time. That is commitment. People have to make their own decisions. They have to be Scotland through and through."

Ferguson has no such issues. The Rangers and Scotland captain is yet to start a match this season after ankle surgery but Burley says the 30-year-old is itching to return to the international fold. "Barry hasn't played for a long time but he has two games coming up for Rangers where he can improve his match sharpness," Burley said. "We are not inundated with world-class players and Barry brings a lot of passion. I saw him do extra runs after Rangers played at Kilmarnock on Sunday and I know him to be very enthusiastic."

Chris Iwelumo has retained his place despite a high-profile miss on his Scotland debut against Norway last month. The on-form Cardiff City forward Ross McCormack, who has one previous cap, is also recalled.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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