John McGinn has urged Scotland to ‘get nasty’ in Brussels tomorrow night as they try to truly reignite a bid for automatic Euro 2020 qualification he admits was almost snuffed out at Hampden on Saturday.
The Aston Villa midfielder says the Scots would have been resigned to relying on their already guaranteed play-off spot for a place in next year’s finals if they had been held to a draw by Cyprus.
They were spared that ignominious position by substitute Oliver Burke’s dramatic 89th minute goal which secured a 2-1 win from Steve Clarke’s first match as manager.
Next up is the daunting assignment against world number one ranked side Belgium who, just nine months ago, swatted Scotland aside 4-0 in a friendly at Hampden.
McGinn was among those who suffered against the hugely talented Belgians that night but the 24-year-old believes new boss Clarke has already instilled a greater level of resilience which can see Scotland start to upset the odds against even the strongest nations.
“We need to make ourselves hard to beat,” said the former Hibs player. “There’s no doubt about that – in recent times we’ve become a soft touch.
“So we need to stop shipping goals and be nasty, get results where we’re not expected. If we can start that on Tuesday, then carry it on into the autumn, we’ll have a massive chance of qualifying from this group.
“Everyone knew how important the game against Cyprus was and we were probably moments away from our chances of automatic qualification through the group ending – everybody knew that.
“But we showed great character to come back after Cyprus made it 1-1 so late on, big Oli popping up with the goal was just magnificent. The manager had stressed all week that all 18 boys stripped needed to be ready to play a role. Credit to big Oli for coming up with such an important goal.
“Now we’ve given ourselves a real chance to qualify. We’re under no illusions. The games coming up are really tough. But we’ll take them head on.
“It’s character building when you come through a situation like Saturday. It’s always difficult when a new manager comes in and tries to impart his style in just five or six days with the group.
“But we had a really good week, the manager has been very meticulous in what he was doing and we’ve all tried to learn from him.
“In spells against Cyprus, we showed that. Over the piece, we know we need to improve. The performance needs to be a bit more consistent, even though we showed promise in spells.
“We need to make Hampden a real fortress and put teams away earlier. We don’t want to have to rely on last-minute goals every time! But we’re happy with the win.
“There is much more to come. Look at the squad we have and it’s as strong as it’s been for a long time. The last few trips, we’ve had a lot of call-offs, injuries and the like.
“It feels a lot more settled this time. Hopefully we can get the players who are in form for their clubs to show it for Scotland.”
McGinn, who provided the assist for captain Andy Robertson’s stunning opener on Saturday, believes the Liverpool full-back’s link-up with Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser and Celtic midfielder Callum McGregor on Scotland’s left flank is rich in promise.
“You saw that left-hand side we had against Cyprus, it’s probably one of the best combinations in Britain. We need to start using that to our advantage. We’re lucky to have all three – Andy, Ryan and Callum.
“Robbo is a Champions League winner and Ryan is probably coveted by the majority of top teams in the Premier League. So it’s really important to get your best players on the pitch and linking up well.
“They’ve probably not had enough of a chance to show it for Scotland, so hopefully they get a partnership going.
“I’m sure even Belgium won’t look forward to playing against that threat we have on the left-hand side. Hopefully we take that into Tuesday and give them a real problem.
“It was some goal by Robbo but it was all about the pass! Seriously, I half thought about shooting myself. The old me would have shot and it would have gone into row Z. But I saw Andy out of the corner of my eye and that’s the quality he’s got – that’s why he’s got that Champions League gold medal.
“We knew it was in all the way. It tops off a special week for him. He’s such a down-to-earth guy, he’ll just be glad to have helped the team. It’s great to have someone like that, someone who has achieved so much, leading by example. He’s just a normal guy, like any of us, and it’s great to see guys like that doing well. Hopefully he’s saved another screamer for Tuesday.
“It was obviously s a difficult night the last time we played Belgium and they are still the number one team in the world. Eden Hazard has just gone to Real Madrid for £130 million. We’ve got to respect him.
“But if we want to get to a major tournament, we need to go to places like Belgium and get results. Wales do it. Ireland do it. Now it’s up to us to start doing it – starting on Tuesday.
“You can’t write off any game. In international football, all the games are tough. Every team is organised and can hurt you if you don’t concentrate. Cyprus nearly did it to us. Hopefully we can do the same – and better – against Belgium on Tuesday, get a positive result. Hopefully we are set up well for an away game now. That needs to be a trend.”