Evening Express

Souttar in no doubt tonight’s UEFA Nations League opener with Albania is the big one for Scotland

Scotland's John Souttar, left.

Centre-back John Souttar knows Scotland’s UEFA Nations League opener with Albania tonight is the “big one” in terms of the current international break.

Hearts’ Souttar, 21, who made his Dark Blues debut on Friday, playing 90 minutes of the 4-0 friendly defeat to Belgium, is hoping for his second cap.

The Nations League offers Alex McLeish’s Scotland a route to the Euro 2020 play-offs should they fail to reach their first major tournament in 20 years via the traditional route.

It will be the first competitive game of McLeish’s second spell, against a team 18 places below Scotland in the world rankings.

Aberdeen-born and Luthermuir-raised Souttar thinks the occasion in Glasgow will be totally different to the hammering against the Belgians – third at this summer’s World Cup.

He said: “It’s going to be a completely different game, as we know.

“Against Belgium, you get nothing and it’s not the end of the world.

“Albania’s the big one. If we put in a positive result that’ll be the one we’ve been striving for all week, and that’s the most important thing.”

Scotland will take on the Albanians and Israel home and away in League C1 of the Nations League, before a semi-final and final against the other three best tier C teams for a play-off berth.

The home side will have to be better than they were on Friday, where, after a positive 20 minutes of restricting the Belgians to pot shots and not being afraid to try to get forward themselves, an error-strewn performance saw them ship four soft goals to the lethal Red Devils.

Souttar, who is tipped to be the future of Scotland’s defence alongside Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna – currently out with a hamstring tear – acquitted himself well, however.

He showed a calmness under pressure, with ability to play out from the back, and was delighted to earn his first cap despite the circumstances.

He said: “It was a tough night. It was a learning curve.

“But I’ve made my debut and that was something I’ve been striving for for a long time.

“So on a selfish note it was a positive night for me. But collectively it was disappointing.”

Souttar added: “It’s something I’ve been looking to do for a long time (sing the anthem at Hampden).

“They were a top team and you saw them in the World Cup, how good they were.

“It was always going to be a difficult test with a new group of players.

“We’d only been together a week – five days actually.

“For the manager to get all of his ideas across was always going to be difficult, but we need to hit the ground running against Albania and eradicate any mistakes.”

If Scotland can get themselves back into major tournament football, Souttar is looking forward to pulling on the dark blue shirt and taking on world class opposition more regularly.

He said: “That’s where you want to be in your career – playing them (world class players) every week.

“For myself, against them, it was enjoyable.

“Obviously the result wasn’t enjoyable, but I enjoyed the occasion.”