Canary keeper David Marshall should have been slapping on the sun cream and soaking up the Mediterranean sun this weekend as Scotland open their 2010 World Cup campaign tomorrow in baking heat of Macedonia.
Instead, of course, the 23-year-old is back in Norfolk bracing himself for this weekend's forecasted storms after being forced to withdraw from George Burley's opening Group Nine double-header against first Macedonia tomorrow and then Iceland in mid-week after picking up a knee injury.
It's a frustrating blow for the Canary No1 as teh Tartan Army looked to get the qualification campaign off to a flying start this weekend. But as the Macedonians proved before in their previous encounters with England, there are no easy games in international football any more…
“We'd take four [points], but its do-able to get the six,” said Marshall, speaking ahead of his withdrawal.
Sunderland's ?9 million man Craig Gordon was always going to win the race for the No1 jersey and with Rangers' Allan McGregor in fine form north of the border, Marshall's own confident start to the season – including, of course, his match-saving denial against Birmingham's Kevin Phillips – might only have left him competing for that No2 slot with McGregor.
As it is, Aberdeen's Jamie Langfield has been added to Burley's squad; Marshall will have to remain a more than interested spectator as the Scots look to go one better than they did in their heart-breaking Euro2008 qualification campaign – only denied a place in the finals at the very death by Italy's last-gasp strike at Hampden.
“There again it's possible that you could get none,” added Marshall, well aware of the potential banana skins that both Macedonia (a) and Iceland (a) offer over the next five days.
Get themselves off to a decent start tomorrow and at least they can then go into the Iceland game with confidence flying.
“I think the first game is vital – I think it is 110 degrees in Macedonia, so it's going to be a tough game.”
Certainly Scotland can ill-afford any early slip-ups. With just five nations in Group Nine, only one is certain to qualify. Given that Norway and Euro2008 stars Holland provide the other two teams, the bigger tests are still to come.
“We've only got five teams in our group, so the most important thing is to stay undefeated in our first two games.”
Missing out on all such fun and games is clearly a blow; for Canary boss Glenn Roeder the bigger blow would be if Marshall was a doubt for that traditionally tricky trip to Home Park in eight days time. Given Norwich's recent 'history' away at Plymouth, being forced to hand new-boy Stuart Nelson his Canary debut away at Plymouth would be somehow par for that particular miserable course.
The former Bees skipper – who signed a one-year deal in the summer after being released by Leyton Orient – has yet to be tested in anger, although he did get a rn-out for the Reserves in their 2-1 win over Kirkley on Tuesday night and did more than enough to have Reserve boss and City's first team coach Paul tephenson singing his praises afterwards.
“I really praised Stuart in there afterward,” Stephenson told the club's official website, as another of Tommy Wright's goalkeeping charges begins to flourish in his new surroundings.
“He kept his concentration levels really well; he only had one blip where he threw the ball out early when I would have liked him to keep it – and he agreed with that,” added Stephenson.
“But he made two or three really good stops late on. He is a good talker, a good kicker and he has improved since he came to the club and I'm sure there's more to come.”
After Nelson and Roeder would be left to turn to one of his rising England stars, Declan Rudd, if Marshall's knee knock lingered around any longer.
In the meantime, however, Marshall can only watch from a distance as McGregor keeps Gordon on his toes in the build-up to this week's Group Nine openers.
“Allan's playing for Rangers and he's played in some big games – and the Old Firm game at the weekend,” said Marshall, with Rangers claiming the early honours with that 4-2 win at Celtic Park.
“But Craig's done well – he's not even made a mistake for Scotland in the past three or four years, so I'll just keep playing away down here. All I can do is have the Scotland manager come and watch me and keep performing,” said the Canary No1, with Town legend Burley always guaranteed a warm welcome north of East Anglia's border.
What is clear is the determined mood in the Scotland camp; that having come so close to earning that ticket to Austria and Switzerland this summer, they do not want to miss out again. Not in such a heart-breaking fashion as last time when the came so, so close to squeezing former World Champions France out of the reckoning.
“Definitely,” said Marshall. “It's one from the group and one goes into a play-off.
“So with us only having the eight games we really have to make Hampden a fortress and we need to get a couple of wins away from home – that's where we've struggled over the past few years.”
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