Scotland’s failure to qualify for Euro 2016 ‘still hurts’

Steven Naismith says the Scotland squad are frustrated by their warm-up status. Picture: John Devlin

Steven Naismith says the Scotland squad are frustrated by their warm-up status. Picture: John Devlin

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Steven Naismith admits shrugging off Scotland’s Euro 2016 heartache has not got any easier after seeing his side consigned to the role of tournament warm-up act.

Gordon Strachan’s squad are gearing up for Sunday’s friendly with Italy in Malta, followed by a trip to Metz six days later where they will take on France.

But unlike their opponents, that is where their summer duties end after failing to qualify for the European Championships.

Both the French hosts and the Azzurri will use their encounter with the Dark Blues to ready themselves for their march to Paris, but that has only reminded Naismith of what his side has missed out on.

The Norwich forward said: “That is the worst part of it.

“It’s good to meet up and test ourselves against two world-class countries, but we are the preparation and that is it.

“That is a massive disappointment, but it stretches all the way back to the Georgia game.

“Everybody realises that this is the feeling you get when you don’t qualify and we don’t want to go through it again, especially when we are so close.

“When you have been in such a good position, it’s not good to be the warm-up act.”

Naismith’s attempts to forget all about events taking place across the Channel have hardly been made any easier by the excited chatter buzzing round the Carrow Road dressing room.

Among his Canaries team-mates, Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan of Ireland and Sweden’s Martin Olsson are likely to be heading to the Euros, as is Northern Ireland frontman Kyle Lafferty, who spent the second half of the campaign on loan at Birmingham.

But Naismith insists that only makes him more eager to ensure he is able to join in the conversation when it turns to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“The guys at Norwich have been talking about going to the Euros - we’re not and that’s the end of it,” sighed the 29-year-old. “They have all got the buzz and are looking forward to it, because a lot of my team-mates haven’t been to a tournament before.

“They’re experiencing what we hoped we would be.

“But that just fires you up for the next campaign. When you look at our squad, the boys are all of similar ages now. When you are younger you always think, ‘Ah, there’s always next time’.

“Now it has hit home that it is now us coming down to the last few campaigns we could be involved in.

“You do want to make a mark and get to one of the tournaments at least.

“Everything was in our favour last time, such as the amount of teams qualifying, so that’s why it was such a blow.

“But as a squad there is real competition going forward. I’ve been really surprised by the young guys coming in and the quality they have shown.

“John McGinn has stood out after his first cap against Denmark, so has Kenny McLean. I think back to my debut against the Faroes and I was in awe of guys like David Weir and Kenny Miller. But these guys know the opportunity they have got and are desperate to get in the team.”

Having just about processed the pain of failing to end Scotland’s 18-year exile from major tournaments, Naismith suffered fresh agony when his club were relegated from England’s top flight.

The former Rangers attacker quit Everton in January in search of regular action but he now faces having to ply his trade in the Sky Bet Championship next term.

However, he said: “I have no regrets. It was more a decision about how much game time I was going to get and at my age you want to be involved every week.

“As the games go by and you’re not it’s harder to feel part of it, especially when you’re one of the older guys in the team.

“Moving to Norwich was more about me getting the chance to play every week. I might not be sitting here in the Scotland camp had I stayed at Everton and not played much.”

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