Fore and aft, Scotland will face daunting challenges when they open their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign against Kazakhstan in Astana on Thursday. The 27-strong squad named by Alex McLeish contains three goalkeepers with as many international appearances amongst them.
At the other end of the field, McLeish has selected seven attackers, with a combined tally of six goals, five of which have been scored by James Forrest, a winger. The other was scored by Ryan Fraser, also a wide player – and one who will not feature in Astana because he will not be risked on the artificial surface.
To solve his conundrums, there is a significant chance that McLeish will turn to players who have enjoyed a rebirth of fortune at Celtic. Scott Bain, who was excluded at Dundee in November 2017 after falling out with Neil McCann made his Hoops debut in the cauldron of an Old Firm game at Ibrox.
Bain began this season on the promise of replacing Craig Gordon in cup games but has now made 20 appearances, both in domestic matches and in the Europa League after Gordon sustained a knee injury. Allan McGregor’s retirement from international football – just before the squad announcement – opens the door to Bain at this level.
Oliver Burke, meanwhile, arrived at Parkhead on loan from West Brom in January, and established himself as the striker of preference under Brendan Rodgers, a status that continued after Neil Lennon came back as interim boss.
Burke’s pace and his rangy, physical style made him something of a wunderkind as he racked up £28 million worth of transfer fees in moves from Nottingham Forrest to RB Leipzig in 2016 and then to The Hawthorns a year later. Four of his caps were earned in 2016 under Gordon Strachan and another in 2017 but the absence of game awareness put an end to his first stint as a senior international player.
Partly through necessity and partly because of a more disciplined attitude to his game at Celtic, Burke is back in the picture for Scotland, to the satisfaction of Peter Grant, the Scots’ assistant coach. “Oli burst on the scene and I remember a game down at Brighton when he was playing for Notts Forest,” Grant said. “
“He was outstanding and everybody was blown away by him. Then he ended up in Germany. He is not the most outgoing personality but he is the perfect example of a footballer, size-wise and pace-wise. I would call him a modern-day carve-out.