Hearts’ Steven Naismith: I’m fit for 50th Scotland cap and I believe we can reach Euro 2020
Steven Naismith declared himself fit and ready for Scotland duty today as he pursues a 50th cap and a place in the country’s Hall of Fame.
Adding to his enthusiasm is the chance to lead a forward line containing creative talents like Ryan Fraser, James Forrest and Ryan Christie.
The Hearts striker returned from a hamstring complaint at the weekend, playing the final nine minutes as a substitute in the 2-2 draw with Hamilton Academical at Tynecastle Park. He was due to start the match but felt the injury tighten that morning and sat on the bench as a precaution.
The 32-year-old suffered no reaction and trained with the Scotland squad at Riccarton yesterday. He told the Evening News he is ready to help his country in the quest to reach Euro 2020. “It’s fine now. I’m fine for Scotland,” he said of the injury. “I came off at the end on Saturday not feeling anything, so it’s all good.
“I’ve had hamstring issues in my younger days and you think: ‘I’ll just get through it.’ You can’t. You can’t hide that kind of injury at all. That’s why I wasn’t taking any risks at the weekend. I desperately want to be involved with Scotland. The 50-cap thing is nice but I really believe we have a right chance of getting to the Euros. This is my first taste under the new manager, I’m excited and really looking forward to it.”
Scotland need a centre-forward for Friday’s qualifier with Russia and Monday’s against Belgium. With Leigh Griffiths absent, Naimith is favourite to lead the line supported by Fraser, Forrest and Christie. “Without a doubt, you want to be in amongst them,” he said. “My last two games for Scotland were against Portugal and Albania [he scored in both].
“You’re playing with these guys and they are at the peak of their powers just now. When you’re on the same pitch as them and it’s all fluent football, it’s really enjoyable. It wasn’t so long ago I was one of those young guys and it soon flips on you, but it gets more enjoyable as you get older.”
Neither Russia nor Belgium are likely to give up many opportunities, however. “No, you wouldn’t expect it. The Russia game is the first game to concentrate on. It’s a big match because it’s against one of the teams we want to be in and around in the section to challenge. We need to go and play our football. When you look at our squad, we have got real, real, quality. You see evidence of it every week down in England now.
“We have tasted Belgium quite frequently and we know what they’re about. The last time we played them we shot ourselves in the foot but we did create a few chances that night. We will need to work harder defensively and not make those individual mistakes. It’s two tough games but I’m looking forward to it.”
Justifiably. National coach Steve Clarke tried to sign Naismith twice – whilst managing West Bromwich Albion in 2012 and with Kilmarnock just last year. The player knows he has the manager’s faith before even pulling a jersey on.
“I know I must have some attributes he likes. He isn’t going to pick a player just on what he has seen from a distance. He has shown that he looks at the boys close up and then makes his decisions. It’s good to be back involved.”
Playing only a partial role for Hearts may help the striker with Scotland over the next week. “It was in the back of my mind that it was a bit risky [to start on Saturday] after the amount of work I’ve done,” admitted Naismith. “I started the Ross County game and had to come off. That wouldn’t have been ideal if it happened again.
“We spoke about it and decided it would be better if I was used as a sub. The percentages of the injury recurring are much higher when you’re coming back and haven’t done too much.”