- Goalkeeper David Marshall has starred in Scotland’s recent run of successes
- Scots face Serbia in EURO play-off final aiming to end a 22-year wait
- Marshall: We can feel the country willing us to qualify
When David Marshall made his Scotland debut, it was against the backdrop of a US presidential election. The fact that it was George W. Bush standing for re-election, as Donald Trump savoured the success of The Apprentice's first season, speaks for the keeper’s international longevity.
Marshall debuted under Berti Vogts in August 2004. It was a time when Otto Rehhagel’s Greece and Jose Mourinho’s Porto had just conquered Europe, and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal Invincibles were still living up to their name. And if that seems like an eternity ago to you, Marshall can empathise.
“It’s crazy to think back on that now,” the 35-year-old told FIFA.com. “And it all goes so quickly. I was really young and there mainly for back-up in those early days. I think my first five caps came under five different managers!”
Marshall was still just a teenager, in fact, and had been playing for Celtic’s reserves until a half-time red card for the team’s No1 thrust him into the spotlight. Back-to-back shutouts in a famous victory over Ronaldinho’s Barcelona followed, and he would go on to save a penalty from the Brazilian in the following season’s UEFA Champions League.
Fast forward 16 years and he can now lay claim to the longest international career in the entire history of Scotland’s national team, having last month surpassed the benchmark set by fellow goalkeeper Ned Doig. But while Doig's record had stood for over 117 years, Marshall is not especially proud of having broken it.
“It’s not like I’ve won the most caps in that time," explained the Scotland No1, who spent long spells as second or third choice. "For about ten of those years I only played a handful of games for the national team and, above all, I’ve never been part of a team that’s qualified for anything.
“That's a tough one to take because I’ve been involved in a lot of different Scotland set-ups and there have been a lot of really good Scottish players who've come and gone in that time. One thing it's shown me is that chances to qualify for major competitions don’t come around often, which is why this is such an important time.”
That all-too-rare opportunity knocks again on Thursday, when the Scots travel to Serbia for a UEFA EURO 2020 play-off final. They do so as underdogs, but with confidence boosted by a trio of hard-fought triumphs over Israel, Slovakia and Czech Republic – each underpinned by a Marshall clean sheet.
The highlight of that October sequence came when the Derby County keeper emerged as a hero in the play-off semi-final shoot-out against the Israelis, pulling off an early and ultimately decisive save.
“That was a strange experience,” he admitted. “I was told afterwards that Scotland had never been in a penalty shoot-out before, and it was a new thing for me too. The fact there were no fans there just made it that little bit stranger. But as a keeper all you want to do is make an early save and put the pressure on the opposition, and fortunately I managed to do that.”
The success of Scotland’s goalkeeper, and the defensive set-up in front of him, also represented vindication for the team’s manager.
Steve Clarke had revealed that one of his first phone calls after taking the job was to talk Marshall into returning to the international fold. The Scotland boss had also kept his nerve amid fierce criticism of his three-man central defence, keeping faith not only with the system but with under-fire individuals such as Scott McTominay.
“The gaffer’s always had a plan there," said Marshall, who will win his 40th cap on Thursday. "He stayed calm and slowly built something that everyone can see taking shape now. These things take time to come together. We’ve had five or six games now as a back three and it was something the gaffer identified as being a good system against the threat of Israel in particular.
“His attention to detail is fantastic and the lads have been right behind him. But you need to get results for everyone else to see that, and that’s why it was so good to get those wins and clean sheets last month. It just shows everyone that we’re going in the right direction.
“I definitely feel good in this Scotland team. I’ve been playing well at club level for the past couple of years and now I’m proving myself with the national team. I’m really enjoying it and just want to keep my standards high and play my part in something special for the country.”
Qualifying for EURO 2020 would certainly fit that description. It has, after all, been over 22 years since Scotland last participated in a major tournament, and memories of France 1998 are becoming increasingly distant.
“I was just a kid then but I do remember sitting down for the first game again Brazil, and the boys coming out pre-match in their kilts,” recalled Marshall. “I can remember EURO 96 too – that’s probably my first Scotland memory – and at that time you think it’s normal, the team being at big tournaments.
“You can definitely feel the country willing us to do it again. It’s a real shame there aren’t fans in the stadiums right now because you know the atmosphere would be unreal. But with social media, and seeing videos, you get a feeling for what’s happening out there and what it means to people.
“We’re just desperate to qualify, and you'd hope that if we can do it, fans will be allowed back in again once the tournament rolls around. The Tartan Army have been fantastic and definitely deserve something to look forward to.”