Strachan delighted with 'buzzing' Scots
Hampden Park is base camp for both Scotland and Northern Ireland tonight as they prepare to launch their bids to make the summit of Euro 2016 in France.
The Scots are third in Group D having suffered only one defeat - in Germany - in a bright start to their Group D qualifying campaign, while Michael O'Neill's players are second in Group F with three wins from four.
Scotland have the easier return to competitive action. They meet makeweights Gibraltar at home on Sunday and Gordon Strachan has decided to treat their visit as a supplementary preparation for the return to real action to judge by his intention to use all available squad members over the two matches.
"I'm hoping to get everybody some time on the pitch," he said. "When I went out to training today I thought to myself that I had four things to do and that really I should be doing them over a four-day period.
"But, I kid you not, after I did the four things the players would happily have gone on for another half-hour. We couldn't believe the intensity of the training - it's amazing because some of them have played 40 games this season, but not one of them was giving an inch on either side. They were buzzing.
"It was terrific and, if we can take that into the games, we'll be fine. I almost had to calm them down so that we could get a breather."
Strachan is in the happy position of having to grant rest to such candidates as the Celtic midfield pair of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven and he even had to insist that another player exclude himself from a session.
"On Monday I needed 16 players for a specific training session, but I had 17 of them desperate to take part. I had to remind Jordan Rhodes that he's had a knock and that he could do with sitting this one out.
"Shaun Maloney has just flown in from California but he's not interested in a rest. Steven Naismith has done a lot of travelling in the Europa League with Everton. I asked him if he wanted two days off but he wanted to be part of the group."
One decision that poses a dilemma for Strachan is his captain. Scott Brown has acquired a taste and a temperament for the role, but Darren Fletcher's return to regular action with West Brom puts him in the frame.
"He's happier in himself, which is understandable. He has played 10 or 15 games this season and has answered a few questions by playing them," said Strachan of Fletcher. "I saw him a couple of weeks ago at Aston Villa and he was terrific.
"Who's the captain? Who's the goalie? Who's going to be the main one up front? Who's going to be the wide players? They are smashing decisions."
Northern Ireland manager O'Neill will use tonight's match to give more of his younger players the chance to prove they have the mettle required for international football.
"I think we will get a lot out of this game," he said. "Hampden is still an iconic stadium for our lads, so I think it will be of huge benefit to us.
"We went to South America in the summer and played against Uruguay and Chile and, off the back of that, we found Conor McLaughlin, who has established himself at right-back."
(© Daily Telegraph, London)
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