BRENDAN Rodgers gave his five Scotland players an extra day off to come to terms with what he called a “missed opportunity” to reach the World Cup in Russia. With captain Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong nursing muscle injuries, Callum McGregor and James Forrest confined to the bench, and Kieran Tierney withdrawn with ten minutes remaining, only two members of the national team’s Celtic contingent, goalkeeper Craig Gordon and striker Leigh Griffiths, remained on the field when Scotland’s dream of a first major finals appearance in two decades died against Slovenia on Sunday night. While it remains to be seen whether Brown will prolong his international career under new management, and Gordon Strachan has paid the penalty for his second successive failure, all of the remainder can hope to be around for the next campaign and beyond, assuming their club form continues to progress in the way it has done in the last 12 months or so. Rodgers for one is in no doubt that this generation is good enough to lead Scotland back to the international football big time.
“My initial reaction through it all was frustration,” said Rodgers. “I was shouting at the TV. I want the Scotland boys to do well. They have made an incredible flip and it was frustrating.
“It was a missed opportunity – there’s no doubt about that,” he added. “It was clear the improvement the squad had made in first, performance and second, results. Then you go into the game and take the lead. They’ll be disappointed in how they played – that’s for sure – and then it looked like they had maybe nicked something towards the end.
“But I’ve spoken to them all. It clearly was disappointing for them. I gave them an extra day off – Monday and Tuesday – and they were back on the Wednesday. I was disappointed for them, of course, but they’re all getting on with the job here at Celtic.”
As demoralising as the campaign turned out, Rodgers feels that the latter part of the campaign – an unbeaten calendar year of four wins and two draws – has to go down as a qualified success. Scotland simply left themselves too much to do with their mis-steps earlier in the campaign, when many of this Celtic contingent had yet to hit full stride.
“The frustrating thing about it is that it was actually a good result, in terms of going to Slovenia, a team that hadn’t conceded any goals at home,” he said. “And you go there and muster a point on the back of five other good results. The second part of the competition was actually very, very good.
“I’m always one then to look at going forward and that’s why it’s so frustrating, because you’ve had 20 years of it,” he added. “There is a genuine chance there because there is a group of players who can go on and qualify. There’s no question about that. There are young, vibrant, exciting players who have shown in an energetic way that they can do the things you want at that level. Let’s take away all the negativity and frustration … and build something over these next couple of years that’s going to allow you have a vibrant team that’s going to have a real go at doing it. You’ve shown in the second part of the campaign that you can do it.”