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SERGEI BALTACHA is set to become the Tartan Army's most unlikely member.

The St Mirren midfielder will make his Scotland debut for the under-21 side at Love Street on Tuesday.

But Baltacha could turn out for the Ukraine, Russia, England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

He is Ukrainian by birth, making him eligible for Ukraine or Russia. And his British passport means he could play for any of the home nations - but a phone call from Saints boss Tom Hendrie informed under-21s chief Alex Smith that Baltacha was eligible for Scotland.

Smith was convinced when he saw Baltacha's impressive performance in Saints' 1-1 draw at Dunfermline last month.

Baltacha will figure at some stage against the Bosnians as Smith's side close their Euro 2000 campaign with a double header against them and Lithuania.

His cap will complete a meteoric rise through the footballing ranks in little less than two months.

He said: "This was totally unexpected but I'm very happy to be here so quickly as I've only started something like five games for St Mirren this season.

"I was born in Kiev but I've stayed in Scotland for almost half my life. I regard it as a huge honour to play international football for any country.

"I'm very happy and proud Scotland have given me the chance to play on the international stage."

Baltacha joins Saints team-mate and Bell's Young Player of the Month Hugh Murray in the squad and both are in line to make their international debuts.

Scotland boss Smith said: "Sergei will definitely feature at some stage against the Bosnians. The great thing about him is that he can play in a number of positions which is good for the national team as a whole.

"He has been in excellent club form but he is here so we can give him a cap and then he can play for Scotland and nobody else.

"I have introduced a few new players who I aim to blood to give them a taste of international football before they embark upon qualifying for the next major championships."

Aberdeen defender Russell Anderson called off yesterday with a back injury. He has been replaced by Hibs defender Mark Dempsie

Smith has three other potential new caps in the squad - 19-year-old Dons goalkeeper Ryan Esson, Dundee's James Langfield, 19, and Joe Jordan's son Andrew,19.

Scotland's women kicked off their European Championship campaign with a 3-0 triumph over the Republic of Ireland at Broadwood.

Ayr United's Julie Fleeting starred, scoring one and setting up the others.

She fed in Amanda Burns for the opener in 10 minutes. Then she powered home a header from 12 yards following a 56th-minute corner.

Burns bagged the third after 64 minutes, knocking home a Fleeting cross.

Coach Vera Pauw said: "It's a dream start for us."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Haggerty, Anthony
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 4, 1999
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