Aberdeen skipper Graeme Shinnie is delighted to have made a 3,500-mile return to Kazakhstan as he targets a sixth Scotland cap.
The 27-year-old is with Alex McLeish’s national squad ahead of today’s opening Euro 2020 qualifier at the Astana Arena.
Shinnie made the arduous journey across six timezones with the Dons when facing Kairat Almaty in the Europa League third qualifying round in 2015.
Kairat triumphed 2-1 in the first leg before holding Aberdeen to a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie in the return to send the Reds crashing out.
Shinnie is determined to jet to San Marino for Sunday’s qualifier buoyed by a more positive outcome than on his only previous trip to Kazakhstan.
He said: “The conditions for that game (Kairat Almaty) were not what we were used to and it was a long flight over.
“It was a tough game and very humid. It was 2-1 and Kenny McLean (now at Norwich and also in the Scotland squad in Astana) got a goal to get us back in it.
“We went back home with good hope of getting that goal.”
Aberdeen team-mate Scott McKenna has also flown out to Kazakhstan with the Scotland squad. The centre-back travelled to Astana despite suffering from a tight thigh and was doubtful for the qualifier, which is being played on an artificial surface.
McKenna was not in the Aberdeen team that lost out to Kairat Almaty.
Pittodrie captain Shinnie undertook another long-haul flight in search of his first cap when flying to South America with Scotland last summer for friendlies against World Cup-bound Peru and Mexico.
He was rewarded with a debut Scotland cap off the bench in the 2-0 loss to Peru and a start in the 1-0 defeat to Mexico.
He said: “I was always desperate to try to get into squads because there is nothing better than playing for your country and pulling on the jersey.
“It is something that I always strive for and am desperate to get.
“If the manager, it was Gordon Strachan who was here before the manager now, thought I was good enough he would have put me in. So it was out of my hands.
“I always knew that if I played as well as I could for Aberdeen that was all I could really do.
“Now that I have been in a few squads I am striving to get more.
“I came on against Israel (3-2 win, November 2018) for my competitive debut and it is a case of trying to improve all the time.”
That trip to South America was overdue reward for Shinnie’s domestic form and the catalyst for cementing a regular call-up under manager Alex McLeish.
He has continued to impress and netted a superb double in last month’s 2-0 defeat of St Johnstone in Perth, with McLeish watching the action from the stands.
Shinnie said: “I am guessing (McLeish) is at quite a lot of Aberdeen games.
“Luckily enough for me he was at the St Johnstone game where I scored two.
“It is up to me to try to get my form as good as I can at Aberdeen and, if the manager is there watching, to put up a good performance to show him what I can do.”