James Forrest believes Scotland can “nick” points from top seeds Belgium in next year’s Euro 2020 qualifiers as they seek to build on the momentum of their Uefa Nations League success.
Celtic winger Forrest was the headline act last month as he scored five goals in the victories over Albania and Israel which ensured Scotland are guaranteed a Euro 2020 play-off place, regardless of how they fare in the main qualifying competition.
But while he believes Scotland were handed a tough draw in Dublin on Sunday, when they landed in Group I along with Belgium, Russia, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and San Marino, the 27-year-old is confident Alex McLeish’s squad are capable of a top-two finish which would see them qualify directly for the finals.
Scotland were crushed 4-0 by the Belgians in a friendly at Hampden in September but Forrest insists they will approach the fixtures against the World Cup semi-finalists with a positive mindset.
“It is obviously a hard group,” he said. “You don’t expect it to be anything else. There are some hard teams in it and there is no such thing as an easy international match. But once the qualifiers come around, I’d hope everyone is still feeling good with what happened in the two Nations League matches last month and we can get some more good results.
“We’ll wait and see what the situation is when the games against Belgium come around, but you know you are always going to get a top team from the first group of seeds and none of them were going to be easy.
“Of course, we played them in a friendly not so long ago and it’s clear that it didn’t go too well for us on that occasion, but that just gives us the chance to try and get our own back on them.
“It’ll be a case of trying to nick something in one of the two games against them and then making sure we do our jobs against the rest of the teams in the section.”
Scotland will open their Group I campaign with an away fixture against Kazakhstan on 21 March. The 8,000-mile round trip to the former Soviet republic is a familiar one for Forrest who has played there three times in Champions League qualifiers with Celtic, winning ties against Shakhter Karagandy (2013) and Astana (2016 and 2017).
“It’s not just me who has been to some of these places such as Russia and Kazakhstan,” he added. “I think there will be a lot of players in the squad who have played in the countries we are facing and it gives you good experience.
“You have been there, you have known what it’s like. It gives you the knowledge of what it’s going to be like and you can also take into it the confidence that you can get a good result if you have done well there in the past.
“There is no question everyone connected with Scotland is going to be positive going into the campaign. It definitely feels that, in the last couple of camps, it’s been more of a club vibe among the squad.
“There was a real buzz after the Israel game last month and it can only give the players confidence, as well as making people want to come and really be a part of it. That is how it feels and that can only help guys on the park.
“The manager said that, although players were pulling out of the last squad, they were wanting to be there. We had a real good group of boys at the last camp and everyone is working well in training when we come together. They are doing their all to play and it was shown in the last two performances.”
Forrest added to his prodigious collection of winners’ medals for Celtic on Sunday when he was part of the side which beat Aberdeen at Hampden to retain the League Cup.
He is determined to retain a high level of consistency at club level and ensure he is ready to shine for his country again in 2019.
“From now until the qualifiers in March, I just have to try and keep performing for Celtic,” he said. “If you are doing well for your club, it gets you into contention for the national team.
“It was nice to do well in the last two games for Scotland, but that was in November and it is March before the group starts, so plenty of things can change and you have to keep doing well if you can.
“I want to get as many caps as I possibly can and keep being successful for Scotland, so it’s down to me and everyone else to keep at a high level for the next four months and take it into the next campaign when it starts in the spring.”