DARREN FLETCHER: FRIENDLIES ARE 'VITAL'

Scotland captain Darren Fletcher admits their friendly schedule will take on more importance.

Last Updated: 11/11/11 at 17:40   

Darren Fletcher: Faces Cyprus on Friday night

Darren Fletcher: Faces Cyprus on Friday night

Scotland captain Darren Fletcher admits their friendly schedule will take on more importance with the best part of a year in between competitive fixtures.

Scotland face Cyprus on Friday night in the first of four games planned before they begin their World Cup qualifying campaign, almost certainly in September next year.

Manager Craig Levein is also lining up a fixture in Slovenia in February with further games planned in May and August.

Fletcher shares the manager's belief that they made significant improvements over the course of their unsuccessful Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, which ended with defeat to Spain last month.

And he is determined to maintain that progression, starting with the match in Larnaca on Friday night, despite Levein suffering six call-offs.

"Because there's such a long time until the first qualifier, friendlies are important," the Manchester United midfielder said.

"It's vitally important that we create a club atmosphere and it is difficult to do, especially in friendlies, there are going to be call-offs.

"If you have a slight knock for a friendly you are going to pull out because you want to be fit for your club. That's only natural, that's happened many a time.

"But if there are injury call-offs it gives someone else the opportunity for someone else to stake a claim for a place in the team.

"If you're injured and someone comes in and performs well, you sometimes find it hard to get back into the team.

"So I've always been of the opinion that friendly games are important because you've got to stay there to keep your place in the team."

Fletcher, who will brush off a minor niggle to play in Larnaca, added: "You want to continue a feelgood factor and keep progressing as a team.

"It is important you win these games. On the other side, there are a lot of players going to be making their debuts and newcomers involved in the squad, which is going to take an adjustment.

"The other good thing is that there are no points at stake so it's not the be all and end all if you don't win the match.

"The most important things sometimes in friendlies are the performance levels and to show that we are still progressing as a team and taking on board what the manager expects."

The 27-year-old added: "The more games we get like that, playing the same way with the same nucleus of a team, we will keep progressing.

"It is difficult because the manager doesn't have games every week where we can get that continuity but slowly and surely he has stamped his authority on the team and I think we're not far away from being at the level he expects us to be at.

"Everyone knows what he expects from each individual, as a team and in each position. It's all about repeating that as we go forward."

Four players have joined the squad for the first time this week - Ryan Stevenson, Craig Samson, Gary MacKenzie and Jordan Rhodes.

Huddersfield striker Rhodes, 21, admitted he was somewhat in awe of Fletcher this week but the skipper feels the newcomers have integrated well.

"I think it's a good squad to come into, there's a good team spirit and a good bunch of lads," he said.

"Obviously the new lads are quiet, as you'd expect, but I think everyone has been talking away and getting involved.

"Training has been of a very good standard, I watched it the other day and everyone seemed to be buzzing around and enjoying being here."

Fletcher feels the need as captain to take the lead in absorbing the new players into the squad.

"I was welcomed into the squad and I always feel that responsibility," he said.

"Neil McCann was brilliant with me when I was brought into the Scotland squad and it's something I will always remember and be thankful for.

"I think we've got a good squad to welcome players into anyway.

"There is a real good team spirit and I think anyone that does get included in the squad will feel that straight away.

"It is a friendly squad and a positive squad that wants everyone to do well because they know that's good for Scotland.

"There is no jealousy in the squad at all and it is full of a lot of younger players.

"As captain, you have a slight more responsibility in making people feel welcome but I'm fully confident that we have that in the squad anyway."

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