MX23RW : Saturday, January 19 21:27:13

Naismith targeting ‘dream’ of reaching 50 caps and Nations League play-offs

The Hearts forward wants to make the Nations League play-offs with Scotland.

Steven Naismith is looking to end the year with the “dream” double of 50 Scotland caps and a place in the Nations League play-off.

The 32-year-old Hearts attacker is set to make his 48th appearance in the Group C1 game against Israel in Haifa on Thursday night.

Featuring in the Portugal friendly at Hampden Park on Sunday would mean he could join the Scottish Football Association’s prestigious international roll of honour, for those who have reached a half-century of caps, in the double-header against Albania and Israel next month.

By then Naismith, who scored in the 2-0 win over Albania in the section opener last month after originally being left out of Alex McLeish’s squad, would like nothing more than for Scotland also to have topped their three-team section and be in the draw for the Nations League play-offs, which offers another route to the European Championship.

Speaking at the Sammy Ofer stadium before the Scotland squad trained, he said: “It would be a dream ending to the year I suppose.

“But there is a lot of hard work personally and collectively as a group and that starts tomorrow.

“I didn’t totally (think chance for 50 had gone) but I did begin to wonder if I am going to get any more chances.

“It is difficult when you miss out on a squad or are in a squad but you aren’t involved in the games.

“But my mentality has always been to work as hard as I can and never give up and I am thankful to get the opportunity but it is about putting in the performances and on match days as well.

“As you get older you feel that your opportunities maybe get a bit more limited and you have to grasp them.

“I felt really good since the start of the season. I started well with my club and obviously got my chance the last time round.

“The message is carry on and try to do what I did last time.”

Israel lost 1-0 to Albania in their Group C1 opener last month and have won only once in their last 10 games.

However, Naismith will not be lulled into any sort of complacency.

The former Kilmarnock, Rangers and Everton player said: “We will definitely not be taking it lightly.

“We know they have got some very good players in their squad.

“Obviously they are in a bit of transition at the moment but we have been in that position ourselves where it is tough to get everybody used to the systems and the way you want to play.

“But they are a good team, especially at home and we will need to be at our best.”

Boss Alex McLeish confirmed that midfielders Scott McTominay and John McGinn have shrugged off knocks.

He said: “They are okay. There are no more doubts.”

Click here for more stories about Israel

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