Scotland’s Under-17s kick off their European Under-17 Championship Elite Round on Wednesday.
Striker Dapo Mebude believes their success of late can be attributed to three simple things.
Fearlessness, freedom of expression and friendship.
Still on a high from their recent warm-up win over Spain on their own turf, the highly-rated Rangers prospect explained why hopes are high within a tight-knit squad ahead of their trip to Greece.
Brian McLaughlin’s side will go toe to toe with the host nation before games against Norway and Germany – with a place in this summer’s finals in England up for grabs for those nations who finish top of their group, in addition to the seven runners-up with the best records against the teams finishing first and third in their section.
There are 13 Scottish FA JD Performance School participants in the 20-strong squad, which has been boosted by the return of Heart of Midlothian duo Anthony McDonald and Harry Cochrane – who have been excused of late because of their regular first-team action at Tynecastle.
Dapo, how excited are you ahead of the Elite Round?
We’re really looking forward to going away and taking part in the Elite Round stage. We all want to qualify for the finals in England, but as much as anything else we’ve got a tight squad so it’s always good just to see the rest of the boys. We’re also proud to represent Scotland whenever we pull the shirt on and thankfully we’ve managed to do quite well in the last wee while.
Anyone who follows any of the players on social media will have seen countless examples of you all enjoying each other’s company between games – like in our Five-Second Challenge. What do you put the closeness of the squad down to?
There’s probably two parts to it. Brian McLaughlin’s done a lot to help us bond as a group. We all enjoy working with him and the rest of the staff. Also, a lot of us came through the Scottish FA’s Performance School programme so we’re used to the way each other plays. A lot of it is second nature now. If we’re tight off the park then I think it shows on it.
How important were the recent wins over Poland and Spain for confidence levels ahead of the Elite Round?
They’re two of the highest ranked teams in this age-group, so it showed us what we can take on any team in the world. We were confident anyway but results like that definitely help. We know that Brian has confidence in us and the way we play as well, which also makes a difference.
Talk us through the moment of magic that won the first of two penalties in that win over Spain.
Nathan Patterson, who I play with at Rangers, played the ball into me. I saw the Spanish player get too tight so I let it run through my legs. He brought me down and thankfully Dean Campbell was able to tuck the penalty away.
Everyone within the group is clearly disappointed Dean will miss out through injury, having been such an influential member of a talented squad.
Dean’s an excellent player and an important part of the squad. There’s competition for places so I’m sure whoever comes in will do a good job and Dean will be cheering us on back home. It’s a shame he’ll miss out and we’re gutted for him, but we’re glad to have Anthony McDonald and Harry Cochrane back with us. Brian will have a headache trying to work out who to pick but it’s a good problem for him to have.
How important has Brian been on your own development?
I’ve not got as far as looking Brian up on YouTube to see what he was like as a player, but I did have him as a teacher at my Performance School, so I’ve known him for a number of years. Brian’s always been great with me and quick to pass on tips. He always encourages us to play our style of football. Sometimes it can be difficult to impose it on teams but we showed against Spain that it can work, even against the toughest opponents. Brian always says to keep things tight in our half but to express ourselves in the final third.
What’s the goal for this week?
It’s pretty simple. We’re determined to qualify for the finals. Scotland’s Under-17s have a good record in recent years and we want to follow in their footsteps. As long as we keep working hard there’s no limit to what we can achieve.
Scotland v Greece, Wednesday 21 March, kick-off 4pm (local time), Pampeloponnisiako, Patras
Scotland v Norway, Saturday 24 March, kick-off 12pm (local time), Pampeloponnisiako, Patras
Scotland v Germany, Tuesday 27 March, kick-off 3pm (local time), Papacharalambeio Ethniko Stadio Nafpaktou, Nafpaktos
Ryan Mullen (Celtic)
Archie Mair (Aberdeen)
Taylor Wilson (Hamilton) PS
Nathan Patterson (Rangers) PS
Chris Hamilton (Heart of Midlothian) PS
Kane O’Connor (Hibernian)
Jack Armer (Preston North End)
Lewis Gordon (Watford)
Harrison Ashby (West Ham)
Ethan Erhahon (St Mirren) PS
Billy Gilmour (Chelsea) PS
Terry Taylor (Wolverhampton Wanderers) PS
Ethan Ross (Aberdeen) PS
Harry Cochrane (Heart of Midlothian) PS
Marc Leonard (Heart of Midlothian) PS
Jamie Semple (Motherwell) PS
Adedapo Mebude (Rangers) PS
Aaron Pressley (Aston Villa)
Aidan Fitzpatrick (Partick Thistle)
Anthony McDonald (Hearts) PS
PS - denotes Performance School player