Scotland squad: Who will be included? Celtic player staking claim, who replaces Hibs ace, John Souttar concern
What a difference a day makes. An uncertain international break has suddenly taken shape for Scotland and will further crystallise when Steve Clarke names his squad on Tuesday for two friendly matches later this month.
Poland will be the first, a friendly replacing the postponed World Cup play-off semi-final with Ukraine. The second is still up in the air and is either an away trip to Austria or Wales – whoever doesn’t win the corresponding semi-final on March 24. That has been the way of this international break until now – one that has hung in the balance.
Although there is clarity emerging, an unknown element remains for Tuesday’s players’ announcement too. Some will be missing, others keen for an opportunity.
In attack, Clarke won’t be calling on Kevin Nisbet, and will be without him for the summer play-off and Nations League games too. The Hibs striker would have been in prime position to add to his 10 caps with two friendly appearances but for the knee injury against Celtic and surgery which will rule him out until next season. Lawrence Shankland has played regularly for Beerschot since the turn of the year, scoring twice, and could replace him, but so could either of the SPFL’s leading Scottish scorers, Tony Watt and Bruce Anderson. Barrie McKay at Hearts has been watched too. They will be friendlies after all, and fit for experimentation.
At the back, goal hero against Denmark John Souttar is struggling with an ankle injury and considered a doubt, while Clarke’s first-choice right-back Nathan Patterson’s match-time at Everton has been well documented since his £12m move south in January. A friendly or two may be ideal opportunity for the 20-year-old to state his case for the summer and more involvement under Frank Lampard. Celtic’s Anthony Ralston, or Bologna’s Aaron Hickey, may get a call.
In midfield, Billy Gilmour was only involved against Leeds for two minutes at the weekend as Norwich City struggle. Since defeating the Danes last November Gilmour has been on the victorious team just twice – assisting the match-winner in each – and the Canaries are bottom of the Premier League. Domestically, the midfielder has not been able to find the winning formula he has enjoyed on international duty.
Scotland go into these two games with six Ws on their record for defeating Denmark, Israel, the Faroe Islands, Austria and Moldova twice. But until Monday evening there was uncertainty over the upcoming dates’ five Ws – the who, what, where, when and why – but now we know, at least most of them.
The why has always been the most obvious. Ukraine sought, and were granted, a World Cup play-off postponement in view of their national situation and the invasion from Russia, while all Russian teams were kicked out of football competitions by FIFA and UEFA over the conflict. That left Scotland and Poland without play-off opponents and both have sensibly combined to meet at Hampden on March 24 to keep ticking over as they wait for further World Cup play-off clarity to emerge elsewhere.
When Clarke reveals the latest squad on Tuesday, the Tartan Army will know who they’re cheering on March 24, as well as who they are playing. By full-time, they’ll know where they’re going – Vienna or Cardiff – five days later, and, more hopefully, where they also might end up in the summer.
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