Scotland playing generation game on road to Euros

Mark Reynolds, front row, second right, has been reunited with many of his 2007 Under-20 World Cup team-mates
Mark Reynolds, front row, second right, has been reunited with many of his 2007 Under-20 World Cup team-mates
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GENERATIONS of players growing up together in Scotland youth teams and progressing as a group into the senior squad. It sounds too fanciful.

That kind of collective development has been lacking in this country for decades. Yet the trend may be slowly bucking.

Steven Fletcher, Robert Snodgrass, Graham Dorrans, Mark Reynolds, Lee Wallace, Garry Kenneth and Scott Fox were Scotland players at the Under-20 World Cup in 2007. All have since graduated to the full squad. Only Kenneth and Fox have not been involved with the national team recently, whilst Wallace’s international career is suffering from playing lower-league football at Rangers.

Reynolds is a recent conscript to Gordon Strachan’s squad, earning his first full call-up for the friendly with Nigeria in May this year. He is still awaiting his first appearance but the Aberdeen defender was eager to reach international level having watched a host of former colleagues make the grade.

Now he is in amongst many familiar faces and is encouraged by the progress made by his generation. Like many, he is positive about their prospects of leading Scotland to Euro 2016.

“I came through with Dorrans, Snodgrass, Fletcher, McArthur, who are all the same age as me,” said Reynolds. “We went to the European Under-19 Championship [in 2006] and got to the final in Poland. We went to the Under-20 World Cup together the following year. We didn’t do too well in that but just the experience of those games was great.

“I’ve played for Scotland Under-21s and in the B internationals. I’ve been lucky to play with good players right through and be involved in some successful campaigns. It was nice to see a Scotland team get to a European Championship final at youth level. When you look at the full squad we have now and the level they’re playing at, there’s no reason we can’t have a successful campaign this time.

“There are players coming through together now. Football in Britain is a small community. Everybody knows everybody having played against them or with them for years. I played with Steven Fletcher when we were young boys from the age of eight to 16. We played against Dorrans and Snodgrass for the same amount of time. There were a lot of us then who knew each other’s game and were always in about it.

“We’ve now met back up here. They guys are at the peaks of their careers and playing at the top level down in England. There is certainly a generation of player here. There are older players in the squad too, who are also at the top of their game. We’ve been in amongst each other for a while.”

That unity and togetherness can only help Scotland’s quest to reach a major tournament for the first time in 16 years. Saturday sees them face Georgia at Ibrox before a trip to Poland next Tuesday. Fueling Reynolds’ desperation to qualify are memories of the excitement he enjoyed as an 11-year-old kid watching his country play at the 1998 World Cup.

“I was only young but I can still remember it,” he said. “I remember the buzz around the country – everything stopping to watch the games – and the pride of taking part. It would be great to bring that back to Scotland. Our country is famed for having such a loyal support that follows them through thick and thin. They’re lauded all over the world so it would be great to give them something to be proud of. We fully believe we can do it.

“Before the Germany game last month, we were six games unbeaten. There is a feelgood factor about us and we’re playing good football. More importantly, we’re getting results. The games are all in front of us and it’s in our own hands. We just need to try and get the points needed. The internal pressure put on the players by themselves and the management isn’t going to be exceeded by anybody. I know the media and the fans have huge expectations. The good thing about this Scotland team is our expectations match theirs, if not exceed them. I don’t think we feel a lot of pressure externally because the demands are so high within the squad.”