Scotland U21 coach pleased as stars graduate to full side

Jason Cummings with Oliver McBurnie during Scotland U21 training at Tynecastle. Picture:  Paul Devlin/SNS
Jason Cummings with Oliver McBurnie during Scotland U21 training at Tynecastle. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
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Scotland Under-21 coach Ricky Sbragia is glad the best of Scottish youth football is getting early recognition at full international level.

Sbragia’s side have taken eight points from six European Under-21 Championship qualifying games and are six points behind Group 3 leaders France and four behind Iceland and FYC Macedonia, which leaves qualifying a difficult prospect.

The former Sunderland manager’s chances would surely have been boosted had Celtic’s left-back Kieran Tierney and fellow 19-year-old Oliver Burke, the winger who became the most expensive Scot when he moved from Nottingham Forest to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig in a £13 million deal shortly before the transfer window closed, not by-passed the under-21s and moved into Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad.

Both have been capped at full international level and were named in the squad for the opening World Cup qualifier in Malta on Sunday, although the Celtic player has since withdrawn.

Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, Tynecastle defender Callum Paterson, Hibernian midfielder John McGinn, and Rangers winger Barrie McKay have been part of the under-21 campaign but are also with the A squad along with Hull defender Andy Robertson who played once for Sbragia in the current campaign and is still eligible.

Ahead of the qualifying matches against FYR Macedonia this evening at Tynecastle and Ukraine away on Tuesday, Sbragia said: “I think that is good.

“We have read a lot about Oliver Burke recently and that is credit to Mick Elliott, the scout down in Leicester who picked him up [flagged him up to SFA].

“Scot Gemmill took him into the Under-19s and that is good scouting and good recruitment.

“It is great for Kieran, Jack is up there along with Paterson, McKay and McGinn, I don’t actually want them down at the 21s. I prefer to feed the new intake in which we will consider in the next couple of games, bring new people in, see how they do.”

Motherwell manager Mark McGhee, who doubles as Scotland assistant coach, had expressed his disappointment that Well midfielder Chris Cadden had not been included in Sbragia’s initial squad.

The 19-year-old midfielder, along with Blackburn left-back Stephen Hendrie, was drafted in after Brentford’s Lewis Macleod and Kilmarnock’s Callum McFadzean dropped out.

Sbragia denied he had been leant on by McGhee.

He said: “No. I had seen him [Cadden]. I had watched the Motherwell v St Johnstone game.

“I spoke to Mark about it and as far as I am concerned it is finished now.

“Chris was in there, he was in that squad of 25 and then it is that decision for me of who do I pick.

“We plumped at the time for Lewis because of experience.

“Chris is an extremely good player but he is a ‘96 player [born in 1996] so has another year.

“We knew the importance of games coming up. Unfortunately Lewis got a little knock so Chris was the next one but that is gone, that is in the past.

“Friday is a big game, we have to go win it, we know that.

“Macedonia are an extremely good team, they got a good result in Ukraine, a good draw in France.

“We also have the Ukraine game and we will look at the bigger picture after that game but we know the importance of the game on Friday and the importance, for me, not to lose it. But we are looking to try to get the win.”