Nervous Craig Gordon raises Scotland Euro 2024 stakes ahead of Hearts-Rangers audition

Veteran stopper is not just content with a seat on plane as big few days await

Craig Gordon is not often out of his comfort zone, but a big few days await the veteran Hearts goalkeeper.

The 41-year-old admits to nerves. It is only natural. Gordon is one of four gloved contenders to be selected in Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad on Wednesday for this summer’s European Championships. Only Angus Gunn, Clarke’s No 1 during the qualifiers, seems assured of his place. Gordon, his Hearts team-mate Zander Clark and Motherwell’s Liam Kelly are three others vying for a seat on the plane.

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No doubt it is complicated for Clarke. Gordon is the curveball, as before his horrific leg break at Tannadice on the Christmas Eve of 2022, he was Scotland and Hearts’ undisputed No 1. But a year on the sidelines has changed much. At international level, former England Under-21 keeper Gunn was lured across the border, while at Tynecastle Clark has taken the gloves and has never looked back, winning his first cap last year. Kelly, whose Fir Park contract expires in the summer, has also been capped in the period Gordon has been sidelined.

Craig Gordon is likely to be involved in Hearts' last match of the season against Rangers.Craig Gordon is likely to be involved in Hearts' last match of the season against Rangers.
Craig Gordon is likely to be involved in Hearts' last match of the season against Rangers.

But this is Craig Gordon. Never write him off. He is a young 41. Sitting looking at him as he spoke well, as always, during Hearts’ pre-match media conference on Friday, he looked lean and ready for action. He has dealt with setbacks throughout his career and risen above them. Given the Jambos selected him for press duties, it is a reasonable bet that he will start on Saturday against Rangers as he looks to give one final audition to Clarke.

“This would still be one of the highlights of my career to part of a Scotland squad to go to a Euros,” said Gordon. “I am nervous. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I feel as if I’ve put the work in in training and feel ready. If I do get that call I’ll go there in a good state and ready to do my job. It’s late on in the season but I still feel as if I’m getting better with the game time and in a really good place. I feel really strong at the moment. My body is really good and feels like it’s just getting going now. If I do get picked I will be meeting up with the squad in really good physical state and ready to train and see what happens.”

Gordon has played seven matches so far since making his return in January against Spartans. Only one blooper – if you can call it that – springs to mind against Livingston in a 4-2 win. He is still capable of making unthinkable saves and carries a presence that few goalkeepers possess. The ex-Celtic man also has experience, a vital commodity at a tournament. The wise owl also noted a vital quirk of the Germany squad, who Scotland face on Euro 2024 opening night on June 14. “I see Germany named four in their squad on Thursday so perhaps there's the option of that,” Gordon smiled. “I don't know what the manager's thinking but certainly we're all desperate to go. It would be a great achievement for me to come back and be part of that after where I've been the last couple of years. It would be huge for me and I'm hopeful that it will come true.”

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Clarke does take four keepers, like he did for March’s friendlies against Netherlands and Northern Ireland. The expansion of the squad from 23 players to 26 by UEFA helps Gordon’s cause, plus injuries to regulars such as Lewis Ferguson and Nathan Patterson. Gordon may be nervous but says next week won’t be stressful. “I can't control it,” he continued. “I'm doing all I can here. My body's in good shape, I feel great, I've physically done what I need to do to put myself in the right place, and outwith that it's in the hands of others. There's nothing more that I can do. I feel ready and it's up to other people to make that decision. It's just about waiting to see what happens.”

Gordon watches on as Angus Gunn saves a shot during the last international break.Gordon watches on as Angus Gunn saves a shot during the last international break.
Gordon watches on as Angus Gunn saves a shot during the last international break.

There is an argument from some that Gordon should be in the starting XI, let alone in the squad. Gunn has been dependable for Scotland and started his international career with five clean sheets in six matches, one of which was against Spain. But alarm bells rang on Thursday when he put in a poor performance during Norwich City’s 4-0 play-off loss against Leeds. Such is Gordon’s self-belief, he believes he can go to Germany and play, not just make up the numbers.

"From my point of view and my mentality, what I think is that I can be part of that Scotland team and challenge for the number-one position,” stated Gordon. “I still feel I can do that. I still feel I can play at the top level and be the number one for Scotland. That is my mentality and that will never change. I have been lucky enough to play in lots of big games in my career and do well in them. This is taking it up a level but there's a certain amount of know-how and experience that comes with that. Hopefully it is something taken into account but it's not in my hands. The coach will make the right decision for what the team needs.”

Clark could also stand in his way – for Scotland and Hearts. He has not wilted under pressure from his returning team-mate. “I knew that when he signed that he was a good goalkeeper and that it would be a good battle,” Gordon added on the ex-St Johnstone man. “I knew it when he came in. I am looking forward to next season and getting pre-season under my belt. Coming back and seeing if I can start the season as the preferred choice and that is my focus going into next season."

It’s now over to another Clarke.



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