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Sep 6, 2019 at 7.45pm UK at Hampden Park
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Dzyuba (40'), O'Donnell (59' og.)

Steven Naismith demands qualifying improvement from Scotland

The Hearts forward is in line to win his 50th cap for his country.

Steven Naismith never thought he would get close to 50 international caps – but he expected to qualify for major tournaments with the players Scotland have had at their disposal.

Naismith will reach a half century of appearances if he takes to the field against Russia in Scotland's fifth Euro 2020 qualifier on Friday night.

But the only accolade the 32-year-old Hearts forward is really concerned about is becoming one of the first Scotland players to make a finals since 1998.

Steven Naismith scores his most recent international goal, in a friendly defeat to Portugal last year
Steven Naismith scores his most recent international goal, in a friendly defeat to Portugal last year (Jane Barlow/PA).

On the prospect of a 50th cap, the former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton and Norwich player said: "It would be a great honour. I don't think that's at the front of my mind in terms of where we are at and where I'm at personally.

"It would be something I would probably look back on and scratch my head to say, 'How did I manage that?'

"Even to get into your 40s in terms of caps, that was something I never really thought I could achieve.

"You get to 25 and kind of lose track of it and before you know it you are nearing 50.

"Personally, great achievement, but the biggest desire is for us to make a tournament. That would go way beyond the 50-cap mark.

"For me having been through a fair few campaigns you feel as if you owe (the fans) because we have under-achieved in the previous campaigns so you are desperate to do it.

"I know how close we are, we have a very good pool of players who are playing at their peak in a great league, England and abroad. We just need to believe it and go out and show it on the park.

"It's not been good enough, simple as. When I first came in we had Barry Ferguson, David Weir, Darren Fletcher, players like that.

"It needs to change. The competition for places is there, the manager has a clear plan and is meticulous, so we are taking the right steps."

Steven Naismith joined Hearts on a permanent deal in the summer
Steven Naismith joined Hearts on a permanent deal in the summer (Jeff Holmes/PA).

Steve Clarke twice tried to sign Naismith, for West Brom in 2012 and Kilmarnock last year, and the Hearts forward has been impressed after finally getting to work with the Scotland manager.

"The biggest thing is there is a clear plan and we will work on that plan as hard as we can and as long as we need to," he said. "But this next period of games are going to be really important."

Naismith declared himself fit despite playing only nine minutes for Hearts since suffering a hamstring injury on his first appearance of the season.

"I've been cautious with some of the injuries I have had, with where I was in terms of out of contract," said Naismith, who had two knee operations last season.

"But I have had a good couple of weeks' training and I'm feeling good. When you get older it's more of a lifestyle thing, rather than go through pre-season and work really hard to stay fit, you naturally stay fit throughout the year."

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Steve Clarke pictured in charge of Scotland on June 8, 2019
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