Aston Villa's John McGinn opens up on why he broke Scotland promise he made to himself
It’s a moment John McGinn would love to erase from his thoughts but one which he admits may remain frozen in his memory for years to come.
Just like the Tartan Army who looked on in stunned disbelief at Hampden ten days ago, McGinn will struggle to forget the 67th-minute missed opportunity which effectively saw Scotland’s World Cup hopes evaporate.
“I promised I wouldn’t watch it again but I woke up the next morning and then had to watch it back,” said McGinn as he reflected for the first time on the close range header which implausibly went wide of the target with Scotland trailing 2-0 to a tiring Ukraine side in the play-off semi-final.
It is impossible to avoid the sense that the momentum of the tie would have swung firmly in Scotland’s favour had McGinn added to his tally of 12 international goals at that pivotal stage.
The healing process for McGinn and Scotland is under way, Wednesday’s 2-0 UEFA Nations League win over Armenia at Hampden quickly followed by Saturday’s trip to face Republic of Ireland in Dublin. As the Aston Villa midfielder seeks to make amends for his aberration against Ukraine, he intends to use the pain it caused as a source of motivation.
“In that split second you don’t see the other side, you make a decision at the time and it was the wrong one,” he added. “Looking back and analysing it, analysing it in detail, it’s easy to say I should have gone to the other side.
“The disappointing thing for me in my Scotland career is that it’s always the easier ones I seem to miss. I score the more challenging ones so I have to practice those moments and don’t be so keen to score.
“I remember looking up at the ball and seeing their goalkeeper and a defender moving the other way. I tried to be too precise with it and paid the price for it.
“After it, the boys were saying ‘why is it all the difficult ones you score?’ and I was like, cheers lads. It’s not as if I’ve not been thinking about it every day.
“You can sit and dwell on it but you can also take it the other way. Steven Naismith was brilliant with me. He was quick to remind me we might not have been in the play-off if it wasn’t for some of my contributions.
“When I put it into perspective, I wasn’t too bad and it’s about getting back onto the horse and trying to help the team again.
“Reflect is probably the wrong word because I was hurting – and hurting badly. That’s part of learning and being a player, you make a decision in a split second.
“On this occasion it was the wrong one and it will probably live with me for a long, long time.
“But you can either dwell on it, keep looking at it and keep thinking what you could have changed. Or you can go out and try to score nineteen times like I did against Armenia on Wednesday, trying to avenge it.
“It didn’t work on Wednesday but I will do the exact same thing on Saturday. My goal return for Scotland has been pretty good so I am keen to add to it, I’m sure a chance will come and I need to take it.
“Don’t think about what’s happening next and focus on the moment. It still hurts me the same way it hurts everyone else in the country.
“It was a really disappointing night for me and for everyone but it’s one we are really keen to avenge. Even if it does take two years or four years, it’s one we will definitely do.”
Along with captain Andy Robertson and Callum McGregor, McGinn was praised by Scotland manager Steve Clarke for spreading a positive pre-match message in the dressing-room which helped spark a positive performance against Armenia.
“We obviously felt a bit flat before the game,” said McGinn. “It was important we did speak because the warm-up wasn’t very good and it would have been easy to start a bit tippy- tappy.
“We were all disappointed with what happened, that was only natural. But the message was simple – we need to put all our energies into getting to the Euros in Germany in 2024.
“We’ve been here before and know how important the Nations League can be. If you take your foot off the gas now, there will be more regrets down the line.
“We’ll have time to dwell on what’s gone on during the summer but for now the full focus is on Ireland and if we get three points it sets us up nicely for the game in Armenia next Tuesday."
As a long season stretches into mid-June, McGinn is as eager as ever for action.
“They won’t change the schedule any time soon, although there are discussions about player welfare and all that,” he added. “But as far as I’m concerned you are getting well paid to do something you love so you won’t hear any of us moaning about it.
“Has Scotland spent too many tournament summers not playing? Yes, definitely, and that’s what we want to change. If we want to get to more play-offs and major tournaments we have to get used to the schedule and dealing with it.
“In the past, these would have been the games where players like myself years ago would have been hoping for a chance because of established players pulling out.
“People would rather have gone on holiday at this time of year. That used to bug me because it shouldn’t have been the case. What’s more important than playing for your country? That’s the mindset we’ve got now. The mentality has changed.
“We will get holidays when these games are over and we will get enough time to go on holiday when we chuck it.”
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