BRENDAN Rodgers declared last night that Stuart Armstrong, the uncapped Celtic midfielder, is capable of starting for Scotland in their vital Russia 2018 qualifier against Slovenia at Hampden on Sunday night.
Armstrong capped another excellent individual display for Rodgers’s side with a well-taken second half goal – his 12th of the 2016/17 campaign – in a narrow 2-1 victory over Dundee at Dens Park yesterday.
The win takes the Glasgow club to the verge of their sixth consecutive Scottish title success; they will be crowned champions if Aberdeen lose to Dundee away on Friday week or they beat Hearts at Tynecastle two days later.
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Rodgers heaped praise on the 24-year-old afterwards and predicted he could, despite never having featured for his country in the past, cope with the step up to international football if he is given the nod by Gordon Strachan this weekend.
The national team, languishing in second bottom spot in Group F after winning just one of their four outings so far against Malta, need to win against Slovenia this weekend to keep alive their slim hopes of qualifying for the World Cup finals next year.
“I thought Armstrong was outstanding again,” said the Northern Irishman. “He has running ability, power, this inbuilt brain for scoring goals, and all different types of goal. He’s a big talent and he’s only going one way, which is nice for Celtic and for Scotland.”
The former Dundee United players has been called up by his country twice in the past, in 2013 and 2015, but he had to pull out with injury on both occasions.
But asked if Armstrong was ready to start for his national team, Rodgers replied: “Yeah, I think so. I have always believed that international football is about technique, speed, mobility and a tactical awareness of the game. And those elements of the game he has. He has naturally good technique.
“We have tried to play the game a different way this season which hopefully he has benefited from tactically and his speed and mobility are there to see. So he has all the tools to play at the top level of international football in a really quick game. So he could certainly go in and play.”
Rodgers, whose side restored their 25 point cushion over Aberdeen at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership table with the win over Dundee, admitted it was pleasing to be just one game from sewing up the title and completing the second leg of a potential domestic treble.
Asked about the prospect of being crowned champions once again in the capital, he said: “That would be nice. It was our intention to win every trophy, that was our idea, so this is our next one. Can we win this and as quick as we can? Of course.
“It has been a long season for the players. But we’re really motivated to finish the best way we can. It’s always nice. If you can finish strong and then it sets you up to begin the following season well.”
“Not really, no. We never expected to win it as early as we can. We’ve done our best in every single game and an immense amount of credit must be given to the players for the focus and mentality they’ve had and games like today they can see through and win. We never take it for granted or have been complacent. We have to win it and earn it.”
There are no fewer than six Celtic players in the 30 man Scotland squad for the double header against Canada and Slovenia – Armstrong, Scott Brown, Craig Gordon, James Forrest, Leigh Griffiths and Kieran Tierney – and all emerged unscathed from the meeting with Dundee.
“They put a lot into the game and Gordon has been kind enough to give them the extra night so they’ll meet up with the squad tomorrow and will be fresh and fit,” said Rodgers.