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SCOTLAND manager George Burley insists Gary Caldwell and Stephen McManus remain his first-choice centre-backs - even if Celtic manager Tony Mowbray is yet to be convinced.

McManus was singled out for criticism after his blunder gifted Rapid Vienna a draw at Parkhead, as the Hoops were held in a vital Europa League tie last week.

Mowbray then shuffled his pack again for the Old Firm derby, with Caldwell dropped to the bench, before admitting after the 2-1 defeat to Rangers he had yet to decide his best partnership.

Burley apparently has no such concerns and had nothing but praise for the Scotland duo ahead of this week's friendly in Japan.

"Gary and Stephen have been outstanding for me," he said. "From day one, they have been my pairing. Like anything, you have your ups and downs but I've got every confidence in both of them.

"They are both very strong characters, very competitive and they are the type of players who are leaders on and off the pitch so I've got no hesitation in selecting them.

"We have other players, like Christophe Berra and Darren Barr, who are waiting in the wings as well. So we are well sorted out for centre-backs."

Burley's own future was thrown into doubt after failing to secure a World Cup play-off spot, before being informed by the Scottish FA he would remain in the job for now.

Debate continues to rage as to whether he is the right man to lead Scotland into the next qualifying campaign and Burley was asked whether he expects to be under further scrutiny in Yokohama.

"I don't know about being judged more," he said.

"You are judged all the time. You are judged in every game. This is a game where we will be looking at some new players and trying to win.

"We are trying to build a squad for the Euros next September. The most important thing for the fans is that they can see we are going in the right direction."


DROPPED Gary Caldwell found himself on the bench ERROR Stephen McManus was singled out for criticism
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 7, 2009
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