Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark ready to end the prolonged wait to fulfil a lifelong dream

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At 31, the Tynecastle stopper is potentially facing a momentous week

As a double cup-winner with St Johnstone, Zander Clark was first named in the senior Scotland squad more than two years ago in August 2021. He was called up again in November that year and twice the following year. After moving to Hearts and taking over in goal following Craig Gordon's injury, Clark returned to the national squad again in March this year. He has been there ever since.

Despite all those call-ups, training sessions, flights, hotels and bus journeys across Europe, Clark is still without a Scotland cap at the age of 31. It is a situation which understandably rankles. Is this the week he finally gets to achieve a lifelong ambition by playing for his country?

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Barring injury, Norwich City's Angus Gunn will play every minute of Scotland's European Championship qualifier against Spain in Seville on Thursday. Clark and Motherwell's Liam Kelly, the other goalkeeper in the squad, will watch from the substitutes' bench. Their only realistic hope of any game time is in Tuesday's friendly with France in Lille.

Clark spoke to the Evening News about his desire to realise the dream of representing Scotland which he, and so many others, have held since childhood. "Obviously, if you speak to any footballer, then when they were a kid they wanted to play for their country. I want to play at the highest level," he said. "It's a decision which is not in my hands because it's down to the manager. We [Scotland] are on a good run at the minute, so keeping that continuity is understandable. We just need to wait and see what happens come the France game. All our attention will be on Spain from the off."

He has had to learn the art of patience of the last two years. Gordon was Scotland's undisputed No.1 before suffering a double leg-break playing for Hearts against Dundee United last December. Clark immediately took the gloves and was in contention to replace Gordon at international level. Then Steve Clarke, the national coach, persuaded Gunn to switch his allegiance from England to Scotland.

Gunn has lost only one goal in five competitive internationals so far and Clarke is loathe to tinker with his team unnecessarily. Particularly in a position as critical as goalkeeper. The Hearts understudy is philosophical. "It's the same as the situation at Hearts. You know only one keeper can play so it's about patience," said Clark. "Bide your time and make sure you are ready to play if called upon. I got into the Hearts team because of an injury so something like that can give you a chance. It will be an exciting week and I'm looking forward to it.

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"You meet up with the squad and you need to flip your mind from club business to what is a massive game in the qualification campaign. It's up to myself and Liam to train at the highest standard to bring the best out in Gunny this week."

Scotland will qualify automatically for next summer's European Championship finals in Germany if they avoid defeat against Spain. "This will obviously be a big game and I'm sure the boys will be well prepared for it and up for it," added Clark.

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