SCOTLAND manager Gordon Strachan has urged the clutch of untested newcomers in his squad not to let a potentially career-enhancing opportunity pass them by against Croatia in Zagreb next month.
Strachan has included five uncapped players in his 28-man party for the World Cup qualifier on 7 June, while there is also a recall for Hibernian’s leading scorer Leigh Griffiths who has not featured since making his debut in last November’s friendly in Luxembourg.
There are maiden call-ups for Brighton defender Gordon Greer, Dundee United midfielder Stuart Armstrong, Aberdeen midfelder Ryan Jack and Celtic striker Tony Watt.
Dundee United wide man Gary Mackay-Steven, who was in the squad for the March fixtures against Wales and Serbia but did not play, retains his place.
While the match in Zagreb is now meaningless in terms of qualification for Scotland, who became the first European
nation eliminated from the 2014 World Cup when they lost 2-0 in Serbia, Strachan is still keen to see several emerging players lay down a marker for the
2016 European Championship campaign. “There are players in there for whom this is a stepping stone,” said Strachan. “They can either take this chance, improve and enjoy this, or they can rest on their laurels and just think that getting into the squad or playing for the under-21s is good enough. It’s entirely up to them. We will give them the opportunity to go further in the game.”
Jack and Armstrong, both 21, and 19-year-old Watt are all still eligible for the under-21 side.
Strachan added: “Having spoken to Billy Stark and the other coaches in the under-21 set-up, these are the good players. What they shouldn’t worry about is that it is just one game and
that’s it. I hope they are excited by the call-up and can help us try to win what will be a very
Griffiths, whose free scoring form on loan at Hibs from Wolves this season has seen him capture several individual awards, has impressed Strachan with his attitude as well as his aptitude.
“Over the last couple of seasons Leigh has decided he wants to improve and get better and he has done that,” said Strachan.
“People can help you on your way to become better but your career is entirely in your own hands. At this moment he is shaping a good career.
He was unfortunate not to be in the squad the last time, he was very close. This time he has achieved that. I spent time with him on Sunday night [at the Scottish Football Writers’ Association awards dinner] and enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Celtic duo Charlie Mulgrew and Kris Commons were omitted by Strachan after discussions with their club manager Neil Lennon but the Scottish champions’ captain Scott Brown is included, along with team-mates James Forrest and Watt.
“Charlie Mulgrew is getting married and, along with Kris Commons, has played a lot of games this season,” explained Strachan. “So I agreed with Lenny to leave those two out and include the other three Celtic players.”
Watt, who has scored five goals in seven appearances for the Scotland under-21 side,
admitted his senior call-up was unexpected.
“It was a surprise, but obviously I was delighted to hear the news,” said Watt. “It’s an honour to go and play for your country.
“It’s been one of my dreams and I have spoken to family about it and they’re delighted for me as well. My dad has
always wanted me to play for Scotland, so I am really happy.
“Gordon Strachan has been a good manager for Celtic and I’m looking forward to working under him as well. It will be good to have some familiar faces in the squad and it’s also good to see the younger guys getting recognised. If I am involved it will be a great experience. I will be ready and won’t be fazed by it.
“It’s a good boost for me and I’m just looking forward to it. Hopefully I can do alright if I get the chance and it also will be a good learning experience for me.”
SCOTLAND SQUAD IN FULL
Matt Gilks (Blackpool)
David Marshall (Cardiff City)
Allan McGregor (Besiktas)
Gary Caldwell (Wigan Athletic)
Danny Fox (Southampton)
Gordon Greer (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Grant Hanley (Blackburn Rovers)
Alan Hutton (Real Mallorca)
Russell Martin (Norwich City)
Lee Wallace (Rangers)
Andy Webster (Heart of Midlothian)
Steven Whittaker (Norwich City)
Stuart Armstrong (Dundee United)
Liam Bridcutt (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Scott Brown (Celtic)
Chris Burke (Birmingham City)
Craig Conway (Cardiff City)
James Forrest (Celtic)
Ryan Jack (Aberdeen)
Gary Mackay-Steven (Dundee United)
James McArthur (Wigan Athletic)
James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)
Steven Naismith (Everton)
Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City)
Leigh Griffiths (Hibernian)
Shaun Maloney (Wigan Athletic)
Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn Rovers)
Tony Watt (Celtic)