Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon vows to continue Scotland career and looks ahead to 2024 and 2026
The 39-year-old goalkeeper insists he hasn’t had any thoughts about retiring from international football and is already setting his sights on qualifying for Euro 2024.
That will come as a relief to all those who watched him deliver another outstanding performance against Ukraine in Wednesday’s 3-1 World Cup play-off semi-final defeat.
It was Gordon’s 67th cap, taking him level with Christian Dailly as the ninth most-capped Scotland player and just two shy of David Weir and Kenny Millar in joint seventh. With three games coming up, he could surpass them both this month.
Tom Boyd, Paul McStay, Alex McLeish, Darren Fletcher, Jim Leighton and Kenny Dalglish would then be the only players with more Scotland appearances than Gordon, who seems to be getting better with age.
The Hearts captain’s Hampden heroics on Wednesday were not enough to keep his or the nation’s dreams alive of reaching the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but it has not extinguished the flame that continues to burn within.
Although the end of a qualifying campaign often prompts older players to consider their international futures, Gordon has no intention of hanging up his Scotland gloves any time soon. It hasn’t even crossed his mind.
“It wasn’t in my thinking at all,” he says. “You’ll need to ask the manager if he wants to continue picking me. I’ll just keep playing and see what happens.”
Gordon will be 43 when the 2026 World Cup is held in Mexico, Canada and the United States, which means his last chance of playing on that stage has probably gone. But the Hearts No1 is not ruling it out yet. “Who knows,” he replies. “You never know. We’ll see.”
For now, the goalkeeper’s focus is firmly on Scotland’s three Nations League Group B1 matches over the next ten days: Matches home and away to Armenia bookending a trip to face the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
One of the very few to emerge with pass marks against Ukraine, Gordon knows Scotland must play better against potentially awkward opponents.
“They are all going to be close matches and difficult ones,” he explains. “We need to play well. If we play well we always fancy our chances. If we have an off day we know we can get beat.”
Winning the group would mean both promotion to League A and a play-off place should Steve Clarke’s team fail to qualify for Euro 2024 through the normal route. So there is something at stake.
Gordon hopes to use the Ukraine disappointment as fuel to get off to a flying start and chase down qualification for Euro 2024.
He explained: “We’re professional players. You get disappointments in your career. Not many as big as this, but we have to respond, get together and come back and start the next campaign.
“We want to be a team who get to tournaments. To do that we need to win these matches. We’ll use everything we can to motivate us. We need a good result. We’ll stick together as a group and we go again.”
Gordon was back up to David Marshall when Scotland played at last summer’s Euros, which means he has yet to play at a major international tournament. It remains one of his outstanding ambitions and the Scottish Football Writers player of the year, now firmly established as Scotland No1 and arguably playing better than he ever has, is determined to be an integral part of the next campaign.
He explained: “We’ve been successful in recent years. We got to the Euros and that was huge for everyone, but we’ve missed out on this one. We don’t want to be a team who got to one tournament. We want to go back again. Everyone is desperate to re-live that and have another shot at it.”
Gordon’s belief is mirrored by the manager. Clarke remains confident his squad can get to another major finals and has told his players to justify his confidence in them by doing just that.
The manager admitted he and his players were suffering after the 3-1 defeat by Ukraine in Wednesday’s play-off semi-final but he is trying to stay upbeat and focus on what is ahead.
Asked if failure to reach Qatar was his lowest moment, Clarke said: "No, I have had some low moments. When I first came into the job there were some very low moments. We have left those days behind, I think, I really do.
"We have improved a lot. I am sad for the players because we wanted to go to a World Cup together. We can't do that. But we can't feel too sorry for ourselves.
"We are a work in progress, we want to get better and hopefully they don't make me out to be a liar and do qualify for another tournament which I am sure they will. I am convinced and that is why it is important that we don't forget how far we have come over the last three years.
"It is a group that has developed together. We have to qualify for Euro 2024 and beyond that, by the time we get to the World Cup in 2026 this group will have more caps, more experience and should be better and that's what we should aim to be."