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Celtic’s Callum McGregor will keep pushing for Scotland call-up

Celtic's Callum McGregor (SNS Group)
Celtic's Callum McGregor (SNS Group)

CELTIC manager Brendan Rodgers has urged Callum McGregor to “keep going” in his quest for a Scotland cap.

Eyebrows were raised when the in-form Hoops midfielder was not included in Gordon Strachan’s squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifying double-header against Lithuania and Malta.

Rodgers was “surprised” at McGregor’s absence from a squad that contains six of his players – Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown, James Forrest, Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths – but has encouraged the 24-year-old year-old to keep up his form.

Speaking after Celtic’s 4-3 play-off defeat in Astana, which still took the Scottish champions into Thursday’s Champions League draw 8-4 on aggregate, McGregor, who was called up by Strachan in 2014 for a European Championship qualifier against Germany but did not play, said: “The manager just said more of the same, to keep going and playing well and hopefully it comes.

“It is obviously Gordon’s decision, he has a good squad of boys and he trusts them and they have had good results as well.

“They are coming towards the end of the campaign and they need to win the next few games.

“He has obviously picked a squad that he the thinks can do the job and it is up to me to try force my way in.

“For me it was just about trying to focus on the Astana game and getting the job done.

“I have always said that I can only do my best for Celtic and hopefully that international (call-up) will come.

“I have played well since the start of the season, scored a few goals, with a few assists so it is up to me to to keep doing that.”

After travelling to Kazakhstan with a 5-0 lead from the first leg, the Scottish champions had some nervy moments in the Astana Arena when they found themselves 4-1 behind in the second half.

Scott Sinclair cancelled out a Kristoffer Ajer own goal before the break, but a strike from Serikzhan Muzhikov and a double from fellow attacker Patrick Twumasi had the Hoops on the ropes before late goals from Olivier Ntcham and Griffiths confirmed Rodgers’ side would be in the group stages for a second successive season.

McGregor said: “It feels great to be in the Champions League for the second season running.

“There were some hairy moments, but it showed the character of the group that we managed to get through.”

The former Celtic youth player, when pressed, admitted being drawn against Real Madrid “would be nice, a change from Barcelona”, whom Celtic have been drawn alongside three times in five seasons.

Striker Griffiths went further, saying: “You wouldn’t mind going in with the big guns, Real Madrid, PSG (Paris St Germain), one of those.

“I think every Celtic fan is sick of getting Barcelona, so we will try to avoid them, but we are back in the big time again and it is great for everyone involved.

“The most important thing was to get through and we look forward to Thursday.”

James Forrest hopes Celtic are drawn with Real Madrid in Champions League group stage

Griffiths scored in both legs of the Champions League qualifying win over Astana last season and again punished the Kazakh side late on with the last goal of the game.

However, he admitted his concern at missing a good chance seconds before Astana ran up the pitch to make it 4-1 through Twumasi.

The Scotland striker said: “We got an earful from the manager telling us to keep the ball and make them run and in the second half for the first 10 or 15 minutes we collapsed.

“They scored two goals in quick succession and then I got a chance to put the ball in the back of the net and didn’t do it and about 25 seconds later they go up the pitch and scored.

“I almost fell to my knees to be honest. With my quality I have to be burying that. Later on I scored with my right foot which was a harder chance than the one I missed.

“It was one of things that happens and nine times out of 10 I do bury them.”