National Teams (100)
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Scotland under 21s are currently gearing up for two crucial European Championship qualifiers against France and Iceland, both at Pittodrie Stadium.
The Scots will take on France on Saturday night and Iceland on Tuesday next week.
The team have made a good start to the campaign after victory against Northern Ireland; goals from Ryan Christie and Ryan Fraser sealed the win last month.
Scotland will be confident in their chances; the squad announced for the matches is a strong one with many of the ‘big hitters’ being selected.
The team is experienced, with players such as Hearts’ Callum Paterson and Manchester United’s Donald Love the main defensive players being selected.
The midfielders include the League-Cup-Winning John McGinn, currently of Hibernian, John Souttar of Dundee United and Jay Fulton of Swansea City.
It could be argued that Scotland’s attacking players are the biggest strength in the squad, big names such as; Jason Cummings, who has netted four times in the Scottish Championship so far, Ryan Christie, fresh from signing a contract with Celtic, and exciting young prospect Ryan Gauld are included in this bracket.
Eleven members of the squad currently play in the SPFL Premiership, many of whom are regular starters, showing the real depth and quality of the young Scottish side.
Other leagues represented in the squad include those of the; SPFL Championship; English Premier League, Championship and League One; with Ryan Gauld the sole representative of the only non-UK based league.
John McGinn – The captain of the side will be looking to lead Scotland to victory in the two crucial qualifiers. McGinn is an integral part of the squad and has a lot of experience in high-profile matches.
Ryan Christie – The talented player will be looking to pose many problems for the defences of both sides and is in good form following two wins in a row with Inverness.
The Scots will be relishing the challenge of playing France on Saturday; a team featuring the likes of Bayern Munich’s Kinsley Coman will prove difficult. The Iceland match will also be a tough task, with the Icelanders showing similar form to the first team as they sit top of the group, beating France in the process.
The Scots are currently in a good position; the team sit second, having only played one game, and are ahead of Macedonia and Northern Ireland who have played two matches so far. France and Ukraine are both on zero points after one match, with Iceland racing away at the top with seven, having played three matches.
Elsewhere in the group Ukraine host Iceland, Macedonia travel to Northern Ireland and France play Ukraine in Strasbourg.
It is no secret that it will be a tough ask for Scotland to qualify with only the top team, and the four best runners up, qualifying for a play-off for the chance to fly to Poland in 2017 for the tournament. There is a small margin for error in under 21 qualifying, with the very limited qualifying places available.
But the team will take great confidence from the first match, beating one of their main rivals in Northern Ireland and already gaining a small advantage over the other sides below them.
Scotland are currently unbeaten in three competitive matches and will be hoping this form continues on Saturday night.
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- national teams
Nineteen years, three months and five days. Since Scotland last played at a UEFA European U21s Championship finals, confirming their fourth-placed finish with a loss against France in the third-place play-off on 31 May 1996, almost a generation has passed.
In hindsight, that success seems a false dawn now, as they have struggled to get past the qualification stage ever since.
Newly appointed coach Ricky Sbragia will be looking to rectify that and get off to a flying start to the qualifying campaign for the 2017 UEFA European U21 Championship finals in Poland when his team take on Northern Ireland in their opening match at Mourneview Park in Lurgan on Saturday.
Scotland have been drawn into a strong group, being paired with France, Ukraine, Iceland and FYR Macedonia. Iceland already showed their credentials when they easily beat Macedonia 3-0 in the only qualifying match played so far. Scotland need to get out of the blocks equally as quickly if they are to have any realistic chance of making it to the finals.
They will be pinning a good portion of their hopes on in-form Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser, who is currently impressing on loan at Ipswich and was nominated for the Championship Player of the Month award for August on the back of his strong performances. Fraser has scored three goals in seven appearances for Ipswich so far, including a spectacular winner against Preston, and looks the player most likely to provide the attacking spark for Scotland.
In recent history, the most successful national teams have profited immensely from having blocks of players from the same teams in their ranks. Spain, with Barcelona and Real Madrid, and Germany, with strong blocks of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund players, respectively, have demonstrated just how fruitful knowing some of your teammates can be in terms of integration into the team and already having an understanding for their movement and behaviour on the field.
The time spent with national teams tends to be short, in many ways too short to build up any real attacking fluency or defensive partnerships. Having players in the squad that train and play with each other week in, week out is invaluable, as many of the seemingly telepathic connections that would usually require more time to build are already in place. It must be good, then, to see that kind of familiarity in the current under-21s squad, with goalkeeper Jack Hamilton, defenders Jordan McGhee & Callum Paterson and midfielders Billy King and Sam Nicholson all plying their trade at Hearts.
Other noteworthy players include Hibs forward Jason Cummings, West Ham’s Stephen Hendrie, Ryan Gauld of Sporting Lisbon fame and Dundee United’s John Souttar, who could make his debut for the under-21s.
For Northern Ireland, Michael Duffy of Celtic might be in line to get his fourth cap while Sbragia’s team will be looking to put Kilmarnock’s Conor Brennan, who is likely to start in goal, under early pressure.
Scotland have not played a competitive match against Northern Ireland on an under-21s level yet. However, they previously beat them 3-1 in a friendly in 2010 and will be hoping for a similar outcome on Saturday to secure a good platform from which to continue their campaign.
The players, all toddlers on that day in May 1996, will be hoping to defy history.