Scotland player set to benefit from Billy Gilmour's absence expresses sympathy for Chelsea star

Having robbed him of the opportunity to add to his tally of Scotland caps back in March, Covid-19 may now have provided Liam Cooper with a route back into Steve Clarke’s starting line-up.

Leeds United defender Liam Cooper (right) pictured during a Scotland training session at Rockliffe Park. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

It’s not the way Cooper would have wanted it, of course. Like everyone else invested in the fortunes of the national team at Euro 2020, he was left dismayed by the news of Billy Gilmour’s positive test result which means the Chelsea midfielder will miss Tuesday night’s decisive Group D match against Croatia at Hampden.

The reshuffling required by manager Clarke is likely to see Gilmour’s midfield role filled by Scott McTominay, who replaced Cooper in the back three for the 0-0 draw against England at Wembley last Friday.

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It means Leeds United captain Cooper is poised to return to the side for a potentially momentous fixture as Scotland bid to get beyond the group stage of a major tournament finals for the first time ever.

Liam Cooper is left dejected at the end of Scotland's 2-0 defeat against Czech Republic at Hampden in their opening Euro 2020 Group D match. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

But the 29-year-old will spare a thought for Gilmour and is able to empathise with his young team-mate, having been sidelined by coronavirus himself earlier this year when he missed Scotland’s opening 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Unhappy memories

“I’ve been in Billy’s shoes myself and it’s not a nice place to be,” said Cooper.

“We obviously all wish him a speedy recovery. I spoke to him (after the news broke) and he says he has no symptoms at the minute and hopefully he stays like that.

Liam Cooper tussles for possession with Czech Republic winger Lukas Masopust at Hampden. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“With me having had Covid myself, I know how rough it can be. I got the symptoms.

“I really struggled with it for a few days. It was difficult to deal with, the headache and losing my sense of smell and taste. It’s not nice.

“But obviously John Fleck got through it in our camp a couple of weeks ago without having any symptoms. So let’s hope Billy stays that way as well.

“We’re all just really gutted for Billy, first and foremost. He’s just announced himself on the world stage with a great performance at Wembley – and now this happens.

With question marks remaining over Kieran Tierney's fitness, the Leeds United skipper is likely to be called upon again at Wembley. He won't provide the same attacking thrust but has looked dependable in a Scotland jersey.

“But that’s the world we’re living in at the moment, the world we’ve all had to adjust to.

“Our love goes out to him and we’re all hoping he makes a speedy recovery. We’ll be doing whatever we can to lift his spirits.”

No sulking over omission

Cooper was able to keep his own spirits up despite missing out on Friday’s huge occasion at Wembley.

“Of course, every player in the world is disappointed if they don’t play,” he said. “But the team is more important.

“I’m not a selfish person. I’ll never kick up a stink, never let my head go down because the manager’s made a decision.

“You just have to get on with it and try to push the lads who are in the team. And, if called upon, be ready to play.

“I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. This is the best feeling, the best spirit, I’ve experienced since being involved with the Scotland set-up.

“The boys are different class, the banter is always flying – and then, when it comes to work time, they’re all pulling in the right direction. They work their nuts off for each other.

“We’ve got a chance to go and write ourselves a place in history. It’s a massive game, the lads are buzzing, they all know what an opportunity this is.

“We came into this tournament with the ambition to get to the knockout stages. We’ve now got an unbelievable chance to do that. We just have to work hard, stay humble and get the job done.”

Bouncing back

After the false start of the 2-0 defeat against Czech Republic at Hampden in their opening group match, Scotland’s response against England spoke volumes for the spirit and resilience of Clarke’s squad.

“We’ve got so much character in this group of players,” added Cooper. “We showed that at Wembley. We needed a reaction and we got it. I was so proud of the boys.

“But we can’t rest on that now. We’ve got to turn in an even better performance, because Croatia are such a good team – and they need to win as well.

“We want to improve on our performance from Wembley. Being back at Hampden for a night game is going to be amazing, too.

“The atmosphere at the first game, even with not many fans in there, was unbelievable.

“Then we go to Wembley and it sounded like we were at Hampden. With the importance of this game, I’ve got a feeling the Tartan Army are going to raise the roof.

“Our job is to give those fans something to cheer about – and send them home celebrating a bit of history.

“It was incredible, across the whole country, when we qualified for the finals.

“This game is so important, I can’t even imagine what the scenes would be like if we did this now.

“But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We know we’re coming up against a good Croatia team.

“We’ve got to be at 100 percent just to get the win, then we can look at all the numbers and worry about what happens. But all our focus is on the next game. We go out to win that.

“We’re creating chances and I’m sure the front boys will get their eye in, put some of those away, which will be important. We’re all confident that it’s going to click.

“I saw a stat the other day. We’ve had 30 shots – or 30 chances – in the last couple of games, so we’re definitely creating chances.

“We just need someone to step up and put one away, see where that takes us. I’ll go forward for corners and free-kicks and try my best. That would be lovely, to be the guy who scores such an important goal.”

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