Jack Hendry believes Scotland’s friendly double-header against Costa Rica and Hungary has shown the national team has come a long way in solving its central defensive problems.
The Scots have long lacked depth at the heart of defence, and have conceded 12 goals in each of their last two unsuccessful qualifying campaigns.
Returning manager Alex McLeish freshened things up following the emergence of Celtic’s Hendry and Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna this season, with the pair part of a backline that kept a clean sheet in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Hungary in Budapest.
Hendry feels the pair have done themselves no harm whatsoever in their efforts to remain involved in the squad, and he said: “I feel that he has a lot of good attributes to become a top player.
“He’s acquitted himself really well in the last two games. We all have to take our chances and Scott is definitely one who has made the most of this past week.
“I’ve always believed there was talent coming through when everyone was asking about the next generation of defenders.
“There’s good young Scottish talent – the secret is for us to make the most of that ability and ensure that the Scottish national team benefits.
“We have to kick on and make the team as strong a set-up as possible. There are established players who can help us and the young ones now have a part to play too.”
Hendry’s outing against Hungary was his national team debut, having been called up by McLeish for the first time.
It caps a remarkable rise to prominence for Hendry, who joined Celtic for around £1.5 million in January from Dundee, where he had only signed six months previously from Wigan Athletic.
The 22-year-old is confident he can continue to catch McLeish’s eye, adding: “It’s been a bit of whirlwind over the last few months, but I think I’ve embraced it and made the most of the chances that came my way for club and now country.
“I’ve worked hard for it so I have to maintain that and keep improving.
“I’m still young and it’s my first time with the Scotland squad but I welcomed the challenge.
“You have to have faith in yourself, you have to tell yourself that you’re good enough to be part of it and then kick on.
“Any opportunity I get – no matter my age or experience – I have to take it. I can’t stand back and be afraid. I felt I gave a good account of myself in the game and in training.”
Winning his first cap marked a proud moment for Glasgow-born Hendry, who added: “Unfortunately no-one made it out but I’m sure they were all glued to the TV. No-one could make it over as I wasn’t sure I’d play and its hard to arrange last minute flights.
“I’m sure if I play again then friends and family will make it.
“I’ll be getting the shirt and cap framed and hanging it on my wall at home. It’s a huge honour and a proud day for me and my family so it will be on display. There was never any chance of me swapping a shirt at the end of the game. This one is staying with me for good.”