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16 March 2015, 15:35
Gordon Strachan believes he has the dilemma of picking from arguably the strongest goalkeeping trio in international football.
The Scots host the Irish in the Vauxhall International challenge match at Hampden Park on March 25, before the Euro qualifier against the Group D minnows at the same venue four days later,
Strachan, speaking at the national stadium after naming his 26-player pool and where he was helping publicise the friendly along with Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, pointed to selection headaches in every area of the pitch, but especially between the sticks.
He said: ``I have dilemmas up front, dilemmas in midfield but that is probably as strong a goalkeeping three (as there is) in international football.
''At times we have had two goalkeepers who have vied against each other and who have been very good.
''It is not often you get three.''
First-choice defender Grant Hanley misses out through injury while his Blackburn team mate Jordan Rhodes returns after scoring six goals in his last seven games for the Lancashire club.
One surprise first call-up is Bournemouth's Matt Ritchie, the English-born midfielder who qualifies through his Scottish father, Alex, and who has helped The Cherries to the top of the English Championship.
''I have watched Bournemouth a lot and Matt has been integral to their success, they are a smashing side,'' said Strachan.
''When we have seen Matt he has never failed.
''He likes to play the way we like to play, a good passer of the ball, with determination and willingness to learn, so that is good for us.
''It is not a trial basis - if you don't play well in your first international it doesn't mean to say you don't get another game - it is nothing like that. It is a longer picture.''
Some eyebrows were raised by the inclusion of Celtic winger James Forrest and the omission of Hoops' duo, Gary Mackay-Steven, capped once, and Stuart Armstrong, whose dual move from Dundee United to Celtic in the transfer window has been seamless.
However, Strachan questioned the accepted wisdom that both midfielders have progressed in their short time at Parkhead.
He said: ''First of all you have to say, have they kicked on? Or are they the same players they were five or six months ago?
''We picked these players over a year ago, and there are other players who will probably think they will have a good chance of being in.
''I could probably think of about 10/12 who might be in that so we might have 13/14 who can count themselves a wee bit unlucky not to be in.''
Forrest has again struggled with injury this season at but has returned in recent weeks and came off the bench to score in the Hoops' 2-0 Scottish League Cup final win over Dundee United at Hampden on Sunday, before he had a late penalty saved by Radislow Cierzniak,
The former Celtic manager said: ``It is great to have James along. He did well when he came on yesterday.
''He has the ability to do things that other people can't do.
''He can eliminate players and it's so beneficial in the modern game.
''The art of beating people is a real plus and it will be great to have him along.''
After taking over as interim Rangers boss last week, Stuart McCall revealed he would take a sabbatical from his coaching duties with Scotland.
''We will miss his company, his input, his work,'' said Strachan.
''But Mark McGhee, myself and the rest of the coaching squad can all come together to fill the void.
''It is like a football side who has gone down to 10 men.
''So we will get through these games and then we will reassess before the game (against Republic of Ireland) in June.'',
Strachan does not believe there will be an overly-competitive edge to the game against Northern Ireland, despite the familiarity between both squads.
The former Scotland midfielder said: ``No, I don't think so. We are looking for the right level of competitive spirit and we will get that. I wouldn't see anything untoward.''