James Forrest: I was six when Scots last qualified
JAMES Forrest was a month short of his seventh birthday the last time Scotland appeared in the World Cup Finals. He has since grown up in an era when his country’s involvement in the greatest tournament of them all has been restricted to that of interested but envious outsiders.
Having come of age with both Celtic and Scotland in the past year, Forrest has no intention of watching the 2014 finals from the comfort of his living room. The highly regarded 21-year-old believes he can fulfil a footballing fantasy by wearing the dark blue jersey in Rio, Sao Paulo or Porto Alegre in two years’ time.
“It would be every player’s dream to play in a World Cup in Brazil,” reflected Forrest as he looked ahead to Scotland’s opening Group A qualifiers against Serbia and Macedonia at Hampden.
“It seems a long way off at the moment but this is the start this weekend. I was almost seven when Scotland were last there, in France in 1998. I can remember it a wee bit, but it was a good wee while ago now.
“I’ve grown up watching the World Cups on telly, without Scotland being there, and that’s become the way it is. Obviously it would be great to play in a World Cup and that’s what we all want.
“It would be great to qualify for this one, that’s what we are all aiming for. We know we’ve got good players in the squad now. Hopefully we get a wee bit of luck along the way and can do it.”
Since making his senior Scotland debut in last year’s Carling Nations Cup against Republic of Ireland in Dublin, Forrest’s continued level of improvement and influence at Celtic has ensured he is now a first pick for any squad named by Craig Levein.
He had a taste of competitive action as a substitute in both of the final two Euro 2012 qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Spain last October, then earned a rave review from Levein for his display when he started the February friendly in Slovenia.
As he looks to win his sixth cap against Serbia on Saturday, Forrest now feels more like an established Scotland player than a promising newcomer.
“I’ve been in a few squads now,” he added. “I know all the boys and I do feel more a part of it now. You want to play alongside and against the big names. I’ve done that a few times now and I want to keep being a part of it.”
Forrest’s progress has been rapid since he made his first-team debut for Celtic in May 2010, scoring as a late substitute for Aiden McGeady in a 4-0 win over Motherwell at Parkhead.
Now he is relishing the prospect of potentially ten of the biggest games in his career over the next four months, with six Champions League group stage fixtures for Celtic joined on his schedule by Scotland’s first four World Cup qualifiers.
“It’s an exciting period for me, with the Champions League and this World Cup qualifying campaign over the next few months,” he said. “You want to play on the big stages. They don’t come much bigger than the Champions League and World Cup. I want to try and make an impact at that level.
“I’ve managed to make myself more of a first-team regular at Celtic now. I knew that, if I kept working hard, I would get a chance in the first team at Celtic. Once you get that chance, you need to make the most of it. I’ve done that so far, but I need to keep going and working hard. That’s the key.
“It does get tougher, but playing alongside the level of players that I do at club and international level is good for me. Even training with the players at Celtic has made me better. Doing that with Scotland as well will help me improve even more.
“I used to train with Shaun Maloney when I came through the ranks at Celtic and now I’m in the Scotland squad with him. Aiden McGeady was at Celtic, too, when I was a kid. Both of them play my position, so watching them and working alongside them was good. I learned a lot from them.”
One of Forrest’s current Celtic team-mates, Kris Commons, has been unable to reclaim his place in the Scotland squad. For Forrest, it is an indication of how difficult it will be for him to nail down a regular starting slot under Levein.
“There are a lot of attacking options in the squad,” he added. “It makes it harder to get into the team but that’s what you want. You need competition for places and I’m sure that’s good for the gaffer here. There are a lot of players he can use in wide areas.
“Kris knows it will be hard to get back into the squad. But, if he keeps working hard, he knows he is good enough to play for Scotland. You turn and look around you at meal times here and there are attacking players all around you. Loads of them are playing at a high level in England. That’s got to be good for Scotland.”
Forrest is still waiting for his first goal for his country and he revealed that is one part of his game he is especially keen to improve. He has netted 13 times in 76 appearances for Celtic so far but remains dissatisfied with his strike rate.
“I’d like to score more goals,” he said. “With Celtic, you get a lot of chances in games and I should maybe score more. I played in a more central role in a few games last season, coming inside. It’s just a case of whatever formation the gaffer goes with. I can play there as well.”
With just one home appearance for Scotland so far, in last August’s low-key friendly against Denmark in front of just 17,582 fans, Forrest is looking forward to experience the Hampden roar in full effect for the first time.
“Everyone talks about the home games at Hampden,” he said. “I’m sure the fans will get right behind us in these two games. I know how great it is with the fans at Celtic Park on big European nights. It can intimidate other teams and hopefully it’s the same with Scotland. It makes it harder for the other team to come and play the way they want to.
“From two home games, you maybe want to get at least four points. I would say that was a good start to the campaign. There is no team out there who you think will run away with the group. I think it will be more even, although I’d say Belgium are probably the top team in it right now.
“All of our boys are confident going into this group. A lot of our boys play against Eden Hazard and the other top players down in England and do well. If they can bring that to Scotland, it will benefit us as well.”
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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