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7 of 021

Captain Ferguson relieved his Scotland gap year over

Stephen Halliday
BARRY Ferguson will be among elevated company in more ways than one at Hampden tonight when he returns to international action after a year-long absence.
The midfielder will captain his country for the 27th time, drawing him level with the number of occasions illustrious predecessors Graeme Souness and Roy Aitken wore the armband for Scotland.

It leaves only George Young, Billy Bremner and Gary McAllister to have skippered the national team more often than Ferguson, who was first given the honour for the 3-1 victory over the Faroe Islands in September 2003.

"I wasn't aware how many times I've been captain, but it gives me a great sense of pride to be up there with those kind of players," smiled Ferguson. "I'll need to give Souness a call and tell him."

The Rangers captain could not have hand-picked a more momentous occasion on which to reach another personal milestone. Ferguson is positively relishing the prospect of facing an Argentina side managed for the first time by Diego Maradona, one of his boyhood idols.

The 30-year-old has not played for Scotland since the agonising 2-1 Euro 2008 qualifying defeat by Italy at Hampden 12 months ago, an ankle injury which required surgery ruling him out of all six of George Burley's matches in charge so far.

Not for the first time, he is eager to make up for lost time in an international career which has now spanned ten years, but seen him amass just 43 caps so far.

"Ever since they announced the Argentina game, it was one I was desperate to be involved in," he said. "Thankfully, my rehab after the operation has gone well and I'm able to play. It's just great to be involved in Maradona's first game in charge of Argentina.

"I loved him as a player. I was only eight years old when Argentina won the World Cup in 1986, but I remember watching that game against England with by Dad and jumping about daft in the living room when Maradona scored the second goal. It's the best goal I've ever seen. He was unbelievable in that tournament.

"Looking back, you never think you will one day maybe meet the guy. I'll be pretty close to him on Wednesday night and it's a good feeling. The spotlight is all on Argentina, which is good for us in a way, but we want to try and impress.

"Playing for Scotland is always important for me. I'm disappointed not to have reached 50 caps yet, but you can't do anything about injuries in football. Every time I've been fit, I've wanted to play for my country. Anyone should want to represent their country at any level."

That observation inevitably invited a question about Kris Boyd's decision to withdraw his services under George Burley's management, but Ferguson was not about to either condemn or condone the course of action taken by his friend and Rangers team-mate.

"I wouldn't interfere in anything like that," he said. "I've always been of the mind to respect someone's decision, in football or anything else. My mate works for a housing company and if he wants to change job or not go back to work, there's nothing I can do about it.

If someone makes a decision like that you just have to get on with it."

Getting on with it for Scotland constitutes trying to reach the 2010 World Cup finals. Despite the loss of five points in their first three qualifiers in his absence, Ferguson is optimistic he can finally make it to a major tournament with his country at the sixth attempt.

"I keep saying that every couple of years, right enough, so maybe I should say I'm not too bothered this time and then we will get there," he added. "The Norway game last month was disappointing, but if you look at the table we still have a chance. We've got to be positive and go for the playoff spot.

"The manager told us when we met up on Sunday night that this is what you get if you qualify for major finals, the chance to play the best teams in the world like Argentina. If you are in among the best, you can learn. It's a great test for us with the qualifier against Holland next March in mind. OK, we are missing some players, but we have got Alan Hutton back and I think we have a really good squad.

"I know a lot of people say that if it goes wrong and we get a bit of a humping, then it won't be any good for us, but I don't think that will happen. The way we are going to set out will stop them from doing that. I think it's the right kind of game to take.

"If you can't get excited about playing against Argentina, then what chance have you got? That's why you are a professional footballer, to try and test yourself against the best.

"It's a pity Lionel Messi isn't here., I think he is as close as you are going to get to another Maradona, but Argentina have so many excellent players. You respect who they are and what they have done in the game, but when the match starts that goes out of the window."

Ferguson is not expected to complete the full 90 minutes tonight but is satisfied he is now approaching full match sharpness.

"I'm still in a kind of pre-season programme, if you like," he said. "During a pre-season, you normally play seven or eight games until you are up to scratch. I've played three full 90 minutes for Rangers, one of them in the reserves, and parts of three other games. So I'm getting closer.

"It's going to take a couple of weeks to get back into a rhythm, but I couldn't have asked for a better period of rehab and I'm delighted with the way it's going."

Taken from the Scotsman

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