Craig Gordon inspired by World Cup legends as Hearts goalkeeper prepares for cap milestone against Israel

Craig Gordon is becoming accustomed to feeling like a father figure in the Scotland squad.

Craig Gordon pictured during a training session at the Oriam in Edinburgh on Friday ahead of Scotland's World Cup qualifier against Israel at Hampden on Saturday evening.(Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Given that two of his current team-mates, Billy Gilmour and Nathan Patterson, were barely out of nappies when the Hearts goalkeeper made his debut for the national team back in 2004, he is certainly entitled to feel his age.

But Gordon is embracing the advancing years of his career as he targets playing at next year’s World Cup Finals which take place just weeks before his 40th birthday.

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“Yeah, that’s fine by me,” he says with a smile when it’s suggested he could emulate legendary ‘keepers like Dino Zoff, Peter Shilton and Pat Jennings who played at the biggest tournament of them all as veterans.

Despair is etched on the face of Craig Gordon after Scotland conceded a late goal to lose 2-1 to Italy in a sell-out Euro 2008 qualifier at Hampden in November 2007. (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group).

“I’m 39 in December so will be nearly 40 by the time the Qatar World Cup comes around. I would love to be one of the oldest players in that tournament, having been one of the oldest in any squad – top three, I think – at the Euros this summer.

“I don’t mind. I’ll take that, as long as we can be involved. I just need to concentrate on my training and make sure I am doing as much as I can off the pitch to put myself in the best possible shape to keep playing. That is what I will continue to do. At some point it will catch up on me, but hopefully not quite yet.”

Gordon will make his 61st appearance for Scotland in Saturday’s vital World Cup qualifier against Israel at Hampden, moving him to joint 12th place on his country’s all-time caps list alongside Richard Gough and Ally McCoist.

It’s a milestone he appreciates but his bigger ambition is to follow in the footsteps of luminaries like those two who played for Scotland at a World Cup.

Scotland line up before Craig Gordon's full international debut in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago at Easter Road in May 2004. Back row (left to right): Darren Fletcher, Stevie Crawford, Gary Holt, Malky Mackay, Craig Gordon, Steven Pressley. Front row (left to right): Gary Caldwell, James McFadden, Nigel Quashie, Jamie McAllister, Jackie McNamara. (Photo by Roddy Scott/SNS Group)

“I wasn’t aware of that stat until you told me but it’s not a bad place to be, alongside those guys,” he said.

“It’s great to be at the age I am, still managing to play for Scotland. I hope I can do it for a few more years yet.

“But I’m fully focused just on this game, getting the result. It’s about everybody coming together, not individual records. So for me, it’s great to be right up there with players like that. But it would mean so much more to me if we could qualify for a World Cup.”

A sell-out crowd at Hampden evokes memories for Gordon of some of his most memorable appearances for Scotland at the national stadium, most notably the thrilling but ultimately agonising Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

“I remember the France game at Hampden, especially,” he added. “When the place is full and they’re right behind us, it feels like a special place to play football.

“We’ve not had that opportunity on that many occasions, a big game, a full house, so we really want to go for it on Saturday. I’m sure the fans will help us go on and get a good result.

“We were close that year, going into the final game of that campaign against Italy at Hampden still able to qualify.

“This is similar, even though we’ve got a few games still to go. It does feel like a pivotal moment in the group, so we have to focus on getting the result.

“That Italy game did feel like a missed opportunity. Given the quality of opponents we had in that group, we probably didn’t expect to get as far as we did.

“But we got some great results. Unfortunately we also chucked in a few disappointing ones which led to that must-win game against Italy right at the very end.

“There was definitely disappointment from that group that still remains, because we could have done something very special with that group of players.

“We didn’t take that opportunity. But we have that chance again, all these years later – at the business end of a group and in with a great chance.”

Much may hinge on the influence of the aforementioned Gilmour with the 20-year-old midfielder having already established himself as a key figure in Steve Clarke’s squad.

“He has a great ability for such a young player,” observed Gordon. “He has the ability to run games and be so dominant. To have that control of a game is fantastic.

“He has everything a modern midfielder needs and is fantastic. He is playing so well for us and is such a big part of our team after just a few caps. Hopefully he has a very long and successful Scotland career ahead of him.

“He is one of the most important players and if we can keep him fit and playing, then over the next few years I am sure he can help to bring success.”

Gordon insists he has no difficulties in bridging the generational gap between himself and Gilmour, revealing they find common ground when it comes to modern day male grooming.

“Everybody gets on really well in the squad,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what age anybody is because we are all here for the same reason.

“Billy usually organises the haircuts for everybody and I join in with them and I get my haircut whenever he can get a barber out. He’s done pretty well with that, he can keep the job!

“I am old enough to be his dad but that is sometimes what happens in football when you get the more experienced players with the younger ones coming through and into the squad and making us better. We are a really close knit group.”

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