Scotland Under-21s take on their Belarus opposite numbers in Minsk this Friday night in the qualifying group for the UEFA Under-21 European Championships. Their final qualification game is to be played at Pittodrie against Austria on Tuesday 7 September, kick-off 4pm. Tickets for the game in Aberdeen have been held at £5 per adult and £2 per child or concession and the stadium will also operate a cash gate on the night.
National coach, Billy Stark says that ‘nothing is impossible’ when it comes to Scotland qualifying for the finals which will bring together the seven top sides from across the continent plus the tournament hosts, Denmark. Stark continues to believe that his side have a great chance to make one of the seven places on offer. The Under-21s need just four points from the final two games to make it to the play-offs for the tournament and Stark is delighted that qualification does not need to depend on how results go elsewhere.
Stark full of confidence
He said: “It’s really all you can ask for at the beginning of a campaign. You want to be in a position with two games to go that qualifying is in your own hands. I don’t think there are any teams out there who have breezed into the play-offs. Just look at Germany, they’re out after losing to Iceland although they have pushed a few players into their first team already. We have shown throughout that we are a capable, dangerous side and going away to Albania and Azerbaijan and getting wins says a lot about these guys. Ironically though probably one of our best performances was away to Austria but one mistake cost us. I’ve watched that game back a couple of times and we really deserved to get something, if not all three points from it. In a sense though we can pull from that experience and go into the home game against them knowing we have what it takes to beat them."
Steven Saunders, James Forrest and Danny Wilson are among the newer faces in the squad for the final double header. Stark is happy at the strength of the pool of players he has at his disposal. He went on: “The nature of qualifications campaigns is that you start with a certain group of players who are strong at that stage, then over the course of the 18-month campaign other players push to the fore. Picking a squad is all about balancing who is in top form at their club and who has done well for us in other games of the campaign and perhaps complimented other players in the style of their play. It is all a balancing act and I am very fortunate that there is a good pool of players eligible for this age group to choose from.”
James Forrest has had a good start to his season at Celtic after being promoted from the Under-19 league and cup double winning side to the first team where he has settled quickly and claimed a starting spot. Forrest was included in the under-21 squad for the recent Sweden game played at St Mirren Park, although he picked up a knock which meant he couldn’t get on the pitch. However, Stark knows enough of his ability and temperament to include him again. He said: “It’s no surprise for me that James has developed the way he has, he was playing at under-19s for me when he was only 17. You have to give real credit to Neil Lennon for putting him in, but he has been rewarded for his faith early on and I’m sure he’s delighted. “James is exceptionally quick. The first thing you would notice about him in our game is his explosive speed, it really catches your eye. But you need to go up the levels to see if that pace is real in terms of top level football. “We took the under-19s to Germany last year and James came up against some really talented players and even at that level his pace was still evident, allied to that he is very broad shouldered which I think gives him that explosive speed. He has great balance, is two-footed and probably most importantly he has a fantastic temperament. He can score and create goals and that’s the kind of player you want in your team, he’ll do things that count, and he is really level headed, I can’t see him changing in any way due to the goldfish bowl that is the Old Firm.”