James McArthur urges Scotland to ‘do a Leicester City’

Scotland's James McArthur is aiming to win the World Cup qualifying group which also contains England. Picture: Ross Brownlee/SNS

Scotland's James McArthur is aiming to win the World Cup qualifying group which also contains England. Picture: Ross Brownlee/SNS

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James McArthur looked on with admiration and envy along with the rest of the Premier League as Leicester City sent shockwaves through English domestic football with their remarkable title triumph.

Now the Scotland midfielder intends to help send a similar jolt to the English international team when the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign kicks off next season.

Top seeds England are odds-on favourites to win Group F and claim the sole automatic place at the finals in Russia, with bookmakers confident Scotland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Malta will 
simply be engaged in a battle for the runners-up spot and a possible play-off.

McArthur, who plies his club trade with Crystal Palace in the self-styled greatest league in the world, has great respect for the quality of players 
England can call upon.

But the 28-year-old insists that he and his Scotland team-mates should take inspiration from Leicester City and seek to write their own glorious tale of the underdog.

“We are going to try to win the group,” said McArthur. “If you have not got ambition to come first in anything you do, then there is no use being here.

“It is going to be hard to qualify automatically, but why can we not? You just need to look at Leicester. Anything is possible in life, not just football.

“So we will be going in, 
hoping we can start well in the group and create that momentum which will be hard 
to break.

“England obviously have good players. You can always just sit back and think: ‘Oh God, they’re great, they’re this, they’re that’.

“But we are a good side, we have got good players who can hurt anyone. We have got a good base and a great manager in Gordon Strachan who can take us to that next level of qualifying. We need to look at what we are good at as well.”

While the rest of the home nations prepare to be at the heart of the action in the Euro 2016 finals in France next month, Scotland’s attention is on challenge matches against Italy in Malta on Sunday and then the French in Metz the following Sunday.

“The fact that we all have team-mates from our clubs going to the Euros shows you what might have been,” added McArthur.

“We want to get to a major competition and everyone of us will get that extra drive from having to watch the finals on TV this summer. Watching the teams in our group, and all 
the home nations, will push us on and, hopefully, make us stronger.

“Any football that is on TV, I will watch, although I would obviously rather be there. But, hopefully, that can give us that drive to push on for this up and coming campaign.

“There are a few guys in the squad as well who are getting older, this is their last chance to say let’s have a go, do everything right and do everything it takes to get to a major 
competition.

“It gives you that drive, the fact we haven’t made the competition in a lot of years. We need to give something to the fans. You know they are such special fans that we want to try to get them to a major competition. That is the main focus.

“We’ve got a chance to rectify that with this next campaign. It is obviously a while away until obviously that last match and trying to qualify, but we need to concentrate on every single moment, 
every single game and make sure we do everything to the best of our ability.

“If I’m being honest, I thought the last campaign was good. We were in a good position and just a couple of games have let us down. We feel like we let the country down but, as a group, we can’t look at that now. We need to look at now and try to win the upcoming games against Italy and France and get that bit of momentum for the qualifying games.

“These two games at the end of the season are not a pest for anyone. It’s an opportunity to show what you can do against two great footballing nations. We have players who want to play for their country at every opportunity and you will see that over the next two games.

“There are a lot of young players in the squad, which is great for Scottish football. The opportunity is there to go in and show what they are made of.

“Also the experienced guys want to play in the big matches and these are two big ones. I don’t see these games as a risk. I see them as an opportunity to test yourself against the best players.

“In European Championship qualifiers or World Cup qualifiers, you are going to be facing great teams, so why not test yourself against the best and take confidence from doing your best against them.”

McArthur’s domestic season ended on a painful note as part of the Crystal Palace side 
beaten in extra time by Manchester United in last Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley.

But the former Hamilton and Wigan player takes solace from having been able to return to action earlier than anticipated after sustaining an ankle ligament injury in February, which was initially predicted to rule him out until next season.

“Losing the final was obviously disappointing,” he said. “But it is a positive end to the season for me overall.

“Had you told me six weeks before the final that I would have played four, five or six games, I would have bitten your hand off.

“The physio team were brilliant, pushed me every day and just to get back playing was great. I now have two very good games with Scotland to try to move on further.”

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