Craig Gordon revealed that Hearts captain Christophe Berra was quick to remind Leigh Griffiths that he has scored more goals for Scotland than the free-scoring Celtic striker.
Both Berra and Griffiths were on target as the resurgent national team defeated Malta 2-0 on Monday evening to strengthen their prospects of securing a World Cup play-off place. The Hearts centre-back has now scored four times for Scotland in 38 appearances while the forward, renowned for his hot scoring form at club level, brought his international tally to three in 15 outings. Berra took great delight in informing his team-mate of this state of affairs, according to Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper Gordon, who praised his former Hearts colleague’s contribution to both defence and attack.
“Christophe’s been excellent for Scotland,” Gordon told the Evening News. “I room with him on the international games and he said he thought he was going to score against Malta. It was a good goal from him. He attacks the ball really well at both ends of the park and that’s something we need. He was in the changing room after the game telling Leigh he’s still got more international goals than him so that didn’t go down too well!”
Berra, 32, and Gordon, 34, both came through the ranks at Hearts over a decade ago. Despite venturing on separate paths at club level since the goalkeeper left Tynecastle for Sunderland ten years ago, the pair have remained in close contact, largely through their involvement with the national team. After contributing to back-to-back clean sheets over the past week, both players to remain Scotland mainstays for some time yet.
“When we meet up with Scotland, we sometimes share lifts through from Edinburgh and we share a room,” said Gordon. “He’s a good room-mate to have – he’s good with the teas and coffees, so I can’t complain. We’re a couple of old-timers now, but hopefully we’ve got a few years left yet.”
Whether these two former Hearts colleagues will be sharing luxury hotel rooms in Russia next summer remains to be seen, but their prospects certainly look a good bit stronger after recent results. Victories over Slovakia at Hampden and Slovenia in Ljubljana early next month with guarantee Scotland second place in Group F and a likely crack at a play-off for the first time since the Euro 2004 campaign. The Scots would certainly have settled for this scenario at Christmas time after they had taken just four points from their opening four qualifiers. A run of ten points from their four games this calendar year has altered the landscape notably from a Scottish perspective.
“We’ve put ourselves in a reasonable position,” said Gordon. “We didn’t start the group particularly well but certainly over the last few games we’ve given ourselves a chance. It’ll be a big one against Slovakia and now that we’ve given ourselves a chance I’m sure we’ll have a lot more fans at Hampden to cheer us on. I hope we’ve got the momentum at the right time – we just have to keep winning.”
Meanwhile, left-back Andy Robertson pinpointed Chris Martin’s late winner against Slovenia at Hampden in March as the moment Scotland’s World Cup qualifying campaign belatedly ignited. “We know how big the Slovenia game was because if we didn’t get three points we were out of it,” he said. “Luckily big Chris got the late goal and the fans started to believe again.
“England was a good performance and the last two games (against Lithuania and Malta) have been spot on. We’ve not conceded a goal, produced two good performances and taken six points. The aim was to be going in to the last two games with a chance and that’s what happened.
“We believe can win them and it’s in our hands. Slovakia will be thinking the same – if they win their last two games they will be there. They have a point more than us, but we will be looking to turn them over at Hampden. After what happened out there (a 3-0 defeat) we feel we probably owe them one.
“We can’t ask for more at this stage though. A lot of people looked at Lithuania away as another banana-skin like Georgia (in the last campaign).
“The lads were different class over there and took that in to Monday. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a glamorous performance by any means. We probably took our foot off the gas when it got to 2-0 but the main thing was we didn’t give them a sniff.”