Belfast Telegraph

Scots can reap benefit of Celtic's Kazakhstan experience: McGregor

Euro 2020 qualifiers

Been there: Callum McGregor has played in the Astana Arena
Been there: Callum McGregor has played in the Astana Arena

By Gavin McCafferty

Callum McGregor believes Celtic's previous experience in Astana can help when Scotland open their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in the Kazakh city on Thursday.

Celtic played Astana in the Champions League qualifiers in 2016 and 2017, progressing both times.

The Hoops drew 1-1 on the same Astana Arena artificial surface that Scotland will play on, before losing 4-3 the following year after a 5-0 first-leg triumph.

The Hoops also beat Shakhter Karagandy of Kazakhstan in 2013 when Scotland winger James Forrest netted a stoppage-time winner at Parkhead to complete a comeback from two goals down.

McGregor, who has twice played in Astana, said from the Scotland team hotel: "When you have been here you know exactly what the standard is like.

"There are no easy games, especially in international football. You are playing against elite players and you can't take anything for granted.

"It gives you a wee feel for it, you think back to those memories. I think it can help.

"It's always tough when you come to these places, far and wide and time differences. We are trying to stick on UK time, trying to keep everything as normal as we can.

"That will give us the best chance as possible of getting a result. On the night we have to perform as well.

"The pitch is actually pretty good, the ball moves pretty well on it. Hopefully it will be okay and we can get the ball down."

Scotland arrived to temperatures as low as minus-17 yesterday morning and it is not expected to break the freezing mark during the week.

But the roof is set to be closed in the stadium, making the game temperature about 11 degrees.

On playing undercover, McGregor said: "It's always a strange one. We will train in the stadium and get a feel for it so hopefully that will stand us in good stead.

Scotland - who also face San Marino on Sunday - are looking to build on a successful finale to their Nations League campaign, when wins over Albania and Israel in November guaranteed them a Euro 2020 play-off spot.

McGregor said: "The last two games we were definitely at it, there was a hunger in the team to succeed. In football, momentum is massive."

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