Scot Gemmill looked beyond the results of the final two matches of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying campaign this week, content that his embryonic group will be better prepared for the forthcoming challenge after experiencing a preliminary exam against Iceland and FYR Macedonia.
Fourteen players in total received their first taste of under-21 action in the double-header, a strategic decision designed to give the next generation maximum exposure to the intensity of international competition.
Out of contention for Qualifying Group 3, Gemmill’s new objective enabled the likes of 17-year-old Rangers midfielder, Liam Burt, the Liverpool goalkeeper, Ryan Fulton, and Nottingham Forest defender Alex Iacovitti to make their debuts among a host of others the coach believes will benefit hugely from the accelerated development – as well as the country’s future prospects.
“Most of our players had never played at this level so it was always going to be challenging for them, especially when the opposing players are a lot older and more experienced,” he said.
“The players responded well to the challenge and will have learned a lot about what is required to play at this level.
“We need to be brave enough to play our younger players at under-21 level – we have act now to give them the best chance of fulfilling their potential.
“Of course, there is a short-term risk in terms of match results but the main objective is to produce players for Scotland.
“I was really pleased to be able to push forward with this right from the outset and look forward to picking things up again the next time we meet.
“It’s only natural that people will look at the results but we have to look at the bigger picture and what is the right thing for the players’ futures and the future of the national team.”
With Iceland and FYR Macedonia both pushing for a place at next summer’s finals, Scotland were always going to be in for two difficult matches, especially away from home.
Gemmill though was happy with how his young players coped.
He said: “We knew we were going to be in for two very tough matches against two highly motivated teams.
“It was great for our players to play in that kind of atmosphere, in front of 20,000 hostile fans.
“It was a really testing environment for the players to deal with and I thought they showed real strength of character.
“Of course, we know there is room for improvement but we can take a lot of positives from the last couple of weeks.”
Gemmill will now look to utilise the international dates in November to play a friendly match and build on the recent gathering.
He will use the time in between to monitor the progress of his players at their respective clubs and may look to include some new faces.
He said: “I am hopeful that we will be able to bring the squad together again next month and pick up from where we left off.
“We’ll be watching the players very closely over the next few weeks and there are a number of others out there who might come in and get their chance to impress.
“We need to play as many games as possible at under-21 level and help challenge our best young players to continue their development to the point where they are trusted to play for the full squad.”