2017 UEFA Under-17 Championship Qualifier
Northern Ireland vs Scotland
Saturday 5th September 2015, 2pm kick-off
Mourneview Park, Lurgan

Newly-appointed Scotland Under-21 coach Ricky Sbragia
is confident his squad can get their European Championship qualifying campaign off to a flying start in Lurgan next month when they take on Northern Ireland.
Sbragia named his 22-man squad for the opening qualifying match today as they bid to qualify for the finals in Poland in 2017.

Scotland are in Group 3 alongside France, Iceland, Ukraine, FYR Macedonia and September’s opponents Northern Ireland and Sbragia is aware of the importance of a good start.

Speaking at his squad announcement, he said: “There are certainly no easy games in international football, which is something that has been very evident in my past four years working with the Scotland youth teams.

“We’ve got a tough group, and I find that the first match of any campaign is always the toughest since it can be difficult to get the materials to prepare as fully as you’d like, such as video from previous matches and scouting reports.

“Northern Ireland will certainly make it very difficult for us but I’m confident that the squad can produce what is required next month.”

Many of the 22-man squad are currently enjoying regular first-time football in the Scottish Premiership, such as Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s Ryan Christie and Dundee United pair Charlie Telfer and John Souttar.

Regular first-team football, according to Sbragia, can only be a benefit for when the players meet-up ahead of the match in Lurgan.
He said: “They’re all match-fit and, most importantly, they’re all playing plenty of football. The majority of this squad have got a lot of minutes under their belts, which is obviously pleasing.”
The Scotland squad features five players from Scottish Premiership leaders Heart of Midlothian. The Edinburgh side have continued the fine form which guided Robbie Neilson’s side to the top of the Championship last season, and Sbragia reckons that a key component to their success has been their faith in young, emerging talent.
“Hearts have been exceptional for over a year now. I watched them against Motherwell at Tynecastle and they were very good”, he said.

“They’re very energetic and play some really good football, and it’s a credit to them that they’ve done what they’ve done giving young Scottish players a chance to gain experience. It can only be a good thing for us too”

Sbragia’s appointment as Under-21 coach follows four years of working with Scotland Under-19s, with under-17 coach Scot Gemmill also moving up an age bracket to this season’s under-19 group.

For Sbragia, the opportunity to continue coaching players as they develop through the youth groups has been extremely beneficial.

He said: “The continuity in the squads is a great thing that both Scot and I have experienced. He has taken a few players up from his time with the under-17s up to under-19 level, and I’ve done the same with my squad today.

“Players like John (Souttar), for example, have been called up because I know they’re qualities and what they can bring to the team.

“Spending time with these players is important as they get to know you and understand what we’re trying to achieve. They learn what to expect from us and vice-versa.  It’s nice to see this group of players again, since I’ve not worked with them since the under-21 friendly against Switzerland.

“I know what these players can do and I believe in what they have got in their locker and that will benefit us in the forthcoming campaign.”