SCOTLAND have very little to play for, on paper at least, when Steve Clarke’s side face Cyprus and Kazakhstan as the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign is drawn to a close over the next week.

While an automatic spot in the European Championships has once again evaded the national team, Hearts striker Steven Naismith is insistent that there is still much to be gained from the upcoming international double-header.

On a personal note, the 33-year-old could clinch his 50th Scotland cap, but Naismith believes that the upcoming fixtures provide the perfect opportunity to prepare for the crucial Nations League play-offs next March.

And after a season that has so far been ravaged by injury, Naismith is fit and raring to go in his bid to secure his starting spot in Clarke’s line-up.


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“It’s been frustrating,” he said. “The optimism I had at the end of the Nations League, to go into this qualifying campaign – you’re hoping for a positive start and then I picked up the injury so I’ve not been able to contribute much. But I’ve just been trying to work hard.

“Personally I think getting the 50th cap is something that’s constantly motivated me but on the bigger picture, in my whole international career, we won’t get a bigger opportunity to get to a major tournament.

“We’ve got these two games where everyone is fighting for a place in the team effectively, so the manager is going to have to work out a system he is going to play and whoever plays the best in it will get the chance to play.”

With age catching up with the Tynecastle forward, Naismith is acutely aware that this could be his last chance to play for Scotland at a major tournament.

“I think it probably will be,” he said. “I understand how good an opportunity it is.

“I need to relay that to the squad, as an older player. This is a great opportunity. We’ve not had the best campaign but from now until March the fans, the squad the manager need to be pushing in the same direction to get us there.

“When I was a kid my earliest memories were Euro 96 and France 98. At that time it was pretty frequent we were making these tournaments. Now they are distant memories that have faded away and I think everybody’s hopes disappeared with it.

“But now we’re at a bit of a crossroads where we have a real opportunity to make it there. It’s massive for not just the players but everybody as a country.

“We are a country that has produced some unbelievable players over the years and it was the norm to make it to a tournament. If we can get back there and as a squad get to know what it feels like to be at a big tournament, it can only help in the future. And it gives the fans something to get back involved in and enjoy watching us.”


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After missing the start of the season with a thigh injury, Naismith came off the bench during Hearts’ 3-0 Betfred Cup semi-final defeat and got on the scoresheet as the Gorgie club recorded their first home win of the season against St Mirren at the weekend.

Given the lack of game-time, then, was he surprised to be included in the Scotland squad?

“I was before I spoke to the manager,” Naismith admitted. “I spoke to him at the start of the week and I’ve got a very good relationship with him. On a couple of occasions he’s tried to sign me at club level and when he got the national team job, we chatted about where I was, how I was feeling and what he expected me to do.

“After the conversation he was comfortable to put me into the squad. After that I’ve went on to do well at the weekend and score a goal, so hopefully that backs up my cause to be in the team.”

Now, Naismith is on the brink of collecting his 50th cap for the national side – and he admitted that there was a point in his career where he thought the day would never come.

“As I got into the mid-forties [in terms of caps], I was coming away and not getting many minutes, it was tough,” he said.

“A new manager came in and changed the squad to go with a lot of younger boys, so at that point you do think it’s not going to happen for you.

“But I’ve worked hard at club level and done well, and in my position as a forward – whether it’s because players have been injured or haven’t come along – it’s given me an opportunity to go and stake my claim.”