Star Scots in Premier League a match for Belgium says Jamie Mackie
AS THE start of Scotland’s 2014 World Cup campaign has loomed ever larger in recent weeks, it has sometimes felt necessary to remind yourself of exactly who Craig Levein’s men will face at Hampden in their first two matches.
For, while it is Serbia and Macedonia who present the first obstacles on the road to Rio over the next week or so, much of the chatter around the prospects of qualifying from Group A has focused on Belgium.
Thanks to the sudden prominence of so many of their players in the English Premier League, the Belgians have emerged in many people’s eyes as the strongest squad in the section.
Any team boasting the talents of Chelsea’s £32 million man Eden Hazard, Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany and Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini clearly deserves the level of respect being afforded to them.
But, while he shares that respect, Jamie Mackie believes Scotland should go into Group A regarding themselves as at least a match for Belgium. The QPR forward is one of 11 English Premier League players in Levein’s 24-man squad which gathered at their Renfrewshire base yesterday.
Mackie, who got the better of Kompany to score in last season’s dramatic Premier League title finale at the Etihad Stadium, insists Scotland now have every reason to to be bullish about their own capabilities.
“When I get confirmation through that I’ve been selected for Scotland, I always look through the squad list,” said the 26-year-old. “When you see the clubs of the players who are listed, it shows there are players in our squad who are doing well every week in the Premier League.
“So it’s a really exciting time for Scotland. It’s just about how we take that forward and make sure we all reproduce our club form for the country. There are a lot of reasons to be confident.
“There are top players from all over the world in the Premier League now. For me, it’s the best league in the world, the most competitive. If you look at Belgium, they are packed out with more and more quality these days, more and more emerging stars. They are coming through and playing well in the Premier League.
“They have kind of crept up on everyone as a national team. You can go through their whole team and it is packed with stars. But we will take the game against them when it comes in October. We played Spain in the last campaign and that’s what you face in these competitions, top-quality sides. We have to get some momentum before we play Belgium, then we can go into it with a bit of belief.
“We won’t be fazed by Belgium, not at all. A lot of our lads are in the Premier League too, playing against the Belgian players week-in, week-out. So it’s not going to be a problem. They are games you look forward to, testing yourself against players of that quality.
“On a personal note, playing well in the Premier League last season gave me a lot of confidence. Coming on to the international stage, it’s obviously very similar in terms of quality. I feel I can do well against those players. I’ve not got a problem playing against them. I can’t promise you I will score against Vincent Company again but I will do my best.”
Since being drafted into the Scotland squad on the strength of his Kilmarnock-born grandfather, Mackie has made a positive impression with two goals in his five appearances so far. The man from Surrey is highly motivated to be a member of a squad which ends Scotland’s lengthy absence from major tournament finals.
“As well as quality, there is also a lot of belief in this squad now,” added Mackie. “This could be a time for a lot of the lads to shine in this qualifying campaign. We do feel we should start to do well now.
“You would prefer to be out there at the Euros or World Cup finals, instead of sitting at home with your missus. You’d much rather be playing football in these big tournaments. The manner in which we didn’t get there this summer probably made us even more hungry for this campaign, to try and make sure we do go through.
“Come the end of the last campaign, I felt this squad were unlucky not to get into the play-offs. We have to take the belief from how we performed at the end of that campaign into this one, with the lads getting to know each other even better. The squad is fairly settled and the confidence is going to build. Hopefully that will result in even better performances on the pitch.
“Getting off to a good start is the main aim, especially being at home in the first two games. It’s massive for the boys to be in front of the home crowd at Hampden. The atmosphere is unbelievable.
“I experienced it myself in the home game against Spain in the last Euro campaign. It was like nothing I’ve heard before. I was taken aback by how good it was, it was incredible. It’s so important to get off to a good start and if we can get everyone behind us, it will build a bit of momentum for the campaign.
“I don’t want to be drawn on how many points we need from these two games. But we all know as a squad, and I’m sure everyone else knows, how crucial it is to make a good start. We will think about the Serbia game first, try and take maximum points. After that, we’ll look at Macedonia. I feel the rest of the teams in the group can all beat each other. Therefore, the home games are massively important for us.”
Mackie has not enjoyed his domestic season so far, QPR manager Mark Hughes radically overhauling his squad during the transfer window. He was an unused substitute at the weekend and revealed he has held talks with Hughes over his role in the team.
“It’s been crazy at QPR since we’ve come back after the close season,” he said. “It hasn’t really settled down, with all the new signings. We’ve got off to a poor start, not what we wanted. To be honest, I’m delighted to be up here, get away from it all and concentrate on Scotland. I’ve played a lot of games out wide for QPR and I’ve had discussions with the manager about it. I feel my best position is right through the middle. It’s very competitive for that role with Scotland, as it is with my club, but I do feel that’s my strongest position. But I haven’t got a problem playing in a wider role. To play for Scotland, I’ll play anywhere. Kenny Miller is the man in possession, while Jordan Rhodes has come in and done well in the friendly against Australia. Ross McCormack is scoring goals as well.
“But maybe there might be a chance for me to stake a claim to play up there as well. It makes it harder for me when I’m not playing there for my club, which is why I had the conversation I did with my manager. I would love the chance to play up front for Scotland, but it’s not about me, it’s about what’s best for the squad.”
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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