It’s time to turn our attention to the national side this week as Gordon Strachan’s Scotland return to duty for the first time in 2017.
Gordon Strachan named his 30-man squad last Monday for the up and coming friendly match against Canada at Easter Road, before the do or die Sunday showdown at home to Slovenia.
With the Tartan Army currently sitting second bottom of their World Cup qualifying group, the game in Glasgow’s south-side really is a must win match. A victory would take the boys to within a point of Sunday’s opponents in second place, however this will be no easy task for the Scots with the Slovenians mustering two wins and two draws from their opening four games – including a draw against England.
The friendly on Wednesday night against Canada is also a valuable warm-up opportunity for Strachan’s men, and with a couple of uncapped players in the squad it could well be the perfect way to bed them in.
Bournemouth starlet Ryan Fraser and in-form Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney are set for their first caps in either of the games. Fraser, who left Aberdeen in 2012 for the south coast costing the Premier League outfit £400,000, has shone for Eddie Howe’s side this season making 20 appearances, scoring three times and assisting twice. He has been a constant thorn in opposition defences with his quick footwork and blistering pace and fully merits his call-up.
Nottingham born Cairney has also caught the eye of many this season, and after his stunning 25-yard strike at Newcastle to give Fulham the lead last weekend, Gordon Strachan was impressed enough to include the creative midfielder. He has notched 9 goals in 42 appearances this season for The Cottagers, helping them to 7th in the table, only one point outside of the play-off places. He has also created 10 goals for his teammates, so the Scotland fans will be hoping he gets a chance to show his skills on Wednesday or Sunday.
Watch Cairney’s outstanding goal here:
There is also a lot of pressure on Strachan to give Stuart Armstrong his debut in a Scotland shirt. Armstrong, who has represented Scotland at under 19 and 21 level is yet to gain his first cap for the national team. However, after a stunning season so far for Brenden Rodgers’ men, there are calls from supporters to make him the first name on the team sheet. The former Dundee United talisman has made 93 appearances in total for the Celts – scoring 18 goals with his latest coming against Dundee at the weekend.
Here are some of Armstrong’s season highlights where he has certainly been amongst the goals:
However, Strachan does have a selection headache going into this doubleheader. Injury to first choice right back Callum Paterson in December means that there is no recognised right back within the 30 strong squad. Whilst this poses a problem, what looks to be the only option is to play Ikechi Anya who has the versatility to play anywhere on the right hand side.
Despite not being named in the original squad, Aberdeen duo Kenny McLean and Graeme Shinnie may still receive late call ups from Strachan after West Brom pair James Morrison and Matty Philips look likely to pull out of international commitments because of injury.
You can find the Scotland squad by clicking here: http://www.scottishfa.co.uk/scottish_fa_news.cfm?page=2986&newsCategoryID=6&newsID=16826
Blog by Ewan Paton for 360 Sports Consultancy