UEFA European Under-19 Championship Elite Round
Croatia (hosts), SCOTLAND, Bulgaria, Belgium
23rd-28th March 2016
Ryan Hardie says he is relishing the challenge of first-team football and hopes his loan experience at Raith Rovers can help propel Scotland Under-19s to their first UEFA European Championship Finals later this week.
Hardie joined the Fife team on loan from Rangers for the second half of the season and has so far impressed at Stark’s Park, most notably netting his first professional hat-trick two weeks ago against St Mirren.
Scotland must overcome Croatia, Belgium and Bulgaria if they are to book their place at this summer’s finals in Germany.
Speaking to the Scottish FA website, Hardie said: “So far, I’m really enjoying the experience and think it will benefit the under-19s as well. I’ve managed to get a few games under my belt and score a couple goals, and hopefully I can keep that going.
“It’s a pretty difficult league, with a lot of experienced professionals and quality players. Just the other week against St Mirren I was up against guys like Andy Webster who have international caps to their name. The target for Raith Rovers is to reach the play-offs, so there’s a real intensity to every game just now.”
Hardie is not the only player in the squad currently out on loan. Rangers teammate Ross McCrorie is at Ayr United, Celtic’s Aidan Nesbitt at Partick Thistle and Kyle Cameron is at Jackie MacNamara’s York City on loan from Newcastle United.
The first-team experience, Hardie feels, will come in useful as Scotland aim to reach the UEFA European Under-19 Championships for the first time since 2006, where Archie Gemmill, father of the current under-19 coach Scot, took the team all the way to the final.
He explained: “The first-team experience that a lot of the boys are getting just now is definitely going to be a benefit going into these qualifiers. We’re playing some of the best under-19 teams in Europe over a short space of time, so we’ll need to use all that we’ve learned as a team and as individuals to reach the finals.”
Scotland survived a tricky group in the first round of qualifiers, including an emphatic 4-0 victory over host-nation Ireland in Limerick. With just the group winners gaining a place in this summer’s finals, Hardie knows that the standard of performance displayed in Ireland will need to be replicated.
He said: “We know that we’ve got a difficult qualifying group, especially as only one team gets through, but we’ve shown this season what we can do.”

“The way we performed to reach this round in Ireland shows that we are a good team, and hopefully we can maintain that level in Croatia.”
Scot Gemmill’s side have already played in Germany this season – where they defeated Mexico and drew against the hosts and the United States in an invitational tournament in October. Hardie, who scored twice in the 3-1 victory over Mexico, is eager to return to Germany for this finals this summer.  As well as the games in October, Hardie was also part of the Scotland Under-17 team that reached the semi-finals of the European Championships two years ago in Malta.
He said: “To reach a major finals again would be amazing. Malta was a great experience, and to repeat that in Germany would be great. We played out there in October, and I think the results we achieved shows that we have the capability to return and compete there this summer. “
Scotland’s first match of the Elite Round is against Belgium, the team that Scotland beat at Cappielow two years ago to reach the under-17 finals. Hardie played that night in Greenock, and it brings back fond memories for the striker.
“That was an unbelievable night,” he recalled.
“We went into the match knowing that a win would be enough to qualify, but we were a goal down at half time. The way we bounced back to win 3-1 though was incredible, though.”
UEFA European Under-19 Championship Elite Round fixtures:

Belgium vs Scotland | 23rd March, 12.30pm | Pomorac Kostrena, Kostrena
Scotland vs Croatia | 25th March, 4pm | Kantrida, Rijeka
Bulgaria vs Scotland | 28th March , 4pm | Pomorac Kostrena, Kostrena