Snodgrass: ‘Scots’ pride at stake in Croatia game’

Robert Snodgrass enjoying the sunshine ahead of Scotland's game against Croatia. Picture: SNS
Robert Snodgrass enjoying the sunshine ahead of Scotland's game against Croatia. Picture: SNS
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ROBERT Snodgrass feels personally responsible for the loss of three points which might just have kick-started Scotland’s wretched World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign.

Now he is determined to help ensure they at least salvage the minimum two-point requirement from their remaining Group A fixtures to avoid slumping into the fifth pot of seeds for the Euro 2016 draw.

Norwich City midfielder Snodgrass is poised to return to action for Scotland against Croatia in Zagreb on Friday night, having missed the last outing in Serbia two months ago through suspension.

His ban was incurred as a result of his dismissal against Wales at Hampden on 22 March when, with Scotland leading 1-0 and on course for their first win of the campaign, he picked up his second yellow card of the night with a rash challenge on Chris Gunter to concede a 72nd minute penalty kick.

Aaron Ramsey levelled from the spot and, two minutes later, the ten-man Scots found themselves behind when Hal Robson-Kanu headed home the Welsh winner, leaving Gordon Strachan’s squad rooted to the bottom of Group A.

Having since become the first European nation to be formally eliminated from the World Cup, Scotland’s only incentive in their remaining four fixtures is to try to collect those two points which will retain their status in the fourth pot of seeds for the European Championship qualifying draw in Nice next March.

“If I hadn’t got sent off I think we’d have beaten Wales and we could have built on that,” reflects a rueful Snodgrass. “But it wasn’t to be. We know we are not a million miles away from getting a few results and hopefully that will start on Friday. I think getting at least two points from the games we have left is achievable.

“The red card against Wales was the low point of the campaign for me. At that point, I felt we were in control of the game. Funnily enough, I did exactly the same thing with the same player, Chris Gunter, for Norwich when we played Reading but it was two yards outside the box that time.

“People say it is a game of inches and I was quite close to blocking the ball. But he was quite clever. I heard him screaming at the top of the voice when I made the challenge and the next minute he was up on his feet.

“I’ve still got a scar on my thigh from the way he slid into me. I only made the tackle to try and help the team. I spoke to the manager afterwards about it. I don’t think anyone could have picked me up, given the way I was feeling. I was very low.

“I told the manager that I’d tried to make the tackle because, if the ball had gone into the box and Wales had scored, they would be asking me why I hadn’t made the tackle.”

That off night for his country was a rare low point for Snodgrass in what has been an admirable first season as an English Premier League player following his £3 million move to Norwich from Leeds United last summer. The 25-year-old produced a number of eye-catching displays for the Carrow Road club, scoring seven goals and finishing runner-up in their supporters’ Player of the Year poll.

Norwich’s 11th-place finish in the league incorporated surprise wins over Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal, which provide Snodgrass with a conviction that Scotland should be similarly capable of punching above their weight against higher ranked nations such as Croatia.

“You go into every game thinking you can win it,” he said. “It’s other people who say you are underdogs or whatever. There were many times with Norwich City this season when we went into games against bigger teams believing we could win. We got some great results against the big teams.

“So I believe there is belief within the Scotland camp. Other people look at it and see us at the bottom of the group table while Croatia are up there fighting for top spot. But we believe we can win the game. We’ve got a great bunch of boys, great character.

“I wouldn’t like to be in a dressing room where anyone believes they are underdogs. You need to believe you can go and win a football match. These are your team-mates, the ones who are going to be putting their necks and bodies on the line trying to get a result.

“So I’d be really surprised if it wasn’t the case with Scotland. At the end of the day, it’s for your country, it’s about national pride. You need to be giving every single bit of effort that you’ve got.”

Snodgrass looks likely to be joined in the Scotland side against Croatia on Friday by his club-mate Russell Martin, who could be asked to fill the central defensive void which is one of manager Strachan’s biggest problems.

“Russell could definitely play in central defence for Scotland,” insists Snodgrass. “I’ve seen him in training and he is a top, top professional. He is a big athlete. Scotland haven’t seen the best of Russell Martin yet.

“It’s hard, because he is playing right-back for Norwich which makes it quite tough for the Scotland manager to put him in at centre-half. But, if this is Russell’s chance, then I know he will take it. You will see signs of how good he is.

“He played in central defence for Norwich against Manchester City and Aguero, Tevez and Dzeko were kept quiet that day. That’s great testament to him.

“It’s being a bit disrespectful to the other lads in the Scotland squad to say Russell can nail down a place in central defence. But I think he has got a chance to do it. It’s up to him to try to do it. He is quite capable of doing it, from what I see of him on a daily basis.”