Celtic manager backs Stuart Armstrong to start for Scotland

Stuart Armstrong celebrates with James Forrest after scoring against Dundee. Picture: SNS

Stuart Armstrong celebrates with James Forrest after scoring against Dundee. Picture: SNS

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Brendan Rodgers has backed Stuart Armstrong to start for Scotland in Sunday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Slovenia at Hampden Park.

The Celtic manager watched Armstrong score what effectively proved the winner against Dundee at Dens Park yesterday as the visitors restored their 25-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

The victory means Celtic can win the title with a win over Hearts at Tynecastle on 2 April – providing Aberdeen avoid inadvertently crowning the Parkhead side by losing against Dundee at Dens two days earlier.

Armstrong increased Celtic’s lead yesterday with a 52nd-minute header after a deflected effort from Jozo Simunovic opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time.

A sensational strike from Dundee substitute Faissal El Bakhtaoui after 76 minutes brought Paul Hartley’s side back into the game but Celtic held on for a 2-1 victory.

Now Armstrong is hoping a season where he has already scored 12 goals can continue to prove memorable by him winning a first international cap, with Scotland due to face Canada on Wednesday and then Slovenia on Sunday. Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has already suggested he will resist using Celtic’s wearying players in the friendly match with Canada at Easter Road, bringing in the likes of Scott Brown, Craig Gordon and perhaps Armstrong for the later – and more critical clash – with Slovenia.

Yesterday’s trip to Dens Park was Celtic’s 48th match of the season, with the in-form Armstrong scoring his third goal in four games.

“He’s a big talent and he’s only going one way, which is nice for Celtic and for Scotland,” said Rodgers.

“There are obviously good players there with Scotland in that part of the field. I have always believed that international football is about technique, speed, mobility and a tactical awareness of the game. And those elements of the game he has.

“He has naturally good technique. We have tried to play the game a different way this season which hopefully he has benefited from tactically, and his speed and mobility are there to see. So he has all the tools to play at the top level

of international football in a really quick game. So he could certainly go in and play.”

Rodgers’ own focus has shifted beyond the international break and specifically to when Celtic are due at Tynecastle to play Hearts, on 2 April. This game could offer the Parkhead side the chance to secure six-in-a-row with a win over the hosts. But an Aberdeen defeat against Dundee in a live televised game two days earlier will hand Celtic the title without them needing to kick another ball.

Rodgers is not concerned when confirmation comes, so long as it comes. “That would be nice,” he said of the potential for glory at Tynecastle, where they won 2-1 on the opening day of a campaign in which they have dropped just four points.

“We have a couple of weeks and I hope they all come back from international duty fine,” he added. “It was our intention to win every trophy, that was our idea. So this is our next one. I always said when I came in we weren’t defending a title, we were looking to win it. The ideal scenario is you win it yourself. But I’ll take Dundee winning.”

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