Liam Cooper targets Leeds United World Cup gathering as Scotland star says cap delay was worth the wait

The defender is a key part of Steve Clarke’s Scotland and has his eyes on a dream World Cup spot — as do a number of Elland Road team-mates.

Liam Cooper was one of five first time call-ups when Scotland last faced Denmark at Hampden.

Kieran Tierney and John McGinn were among the handful of uncapped wonders in Gordon Strachan’s squad as the former boss cast an eye to the future after the failed Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

That March 2016 clash with the Danes launched the international careers of Tierney and McGinn, who was voted man of the match in the 1-0 victory.

But for Leeds United skipper Cooper it was just another small step on the long road towards a full Scotland debut – which wouldn’t arrive for another three-and-a-half years.

Even the other two rookies in Strachan’s squad on that sodden night in Mount Florida – Tony Watt and Jamie Murphy – won their first caps before the big stopper.

But Cooper’s certainly not complaining. Not now that he’s a key man in what he describes as a dressing room brotherhood.

As the Hull-born centre half prepares himself for another play-off pressure pot with his adopted country, he insists the wait was worth every second.

Cooper eventually won that elusive first cap under Steve Clarke in a 2-1 Euro 2020 qualifying defeat to Russia in September 2019.

That campaign would finally end the Tartan Army’s 23-year wait for a spot at a major tournament.

And with the tangible change in mood in the camp over the past couple of years, Cooper knows he timed his arrival on the scene to perfection.

He said: “My first Scotland call-up was here against Denmark although I had to wait another three years for my debut.

“I had to get my head down and hope that one day it would come. I managed to make my debut under the gaffer and I’m very grateful for that.

“It feels different now. Success helps that and it breeds confidence throughout the group.

“The boys look forward to coming and it’s brilliant. The morale is there and the lads get on great.

“When you come here, it’s like a brotherhood. We all buzz off each other and feed off each other’s energy.

“That’s down to the success. The lads have to give themselves a big pat on the back because we’ve created that.

“The mentality now when we go into games is a confident one. We know we will turn up in these games.

“There is no better feeling than winning football games. If you get the success, the fans will come as well.

“This will be the second time we’ve sold out Hampden. It’s unbelievable. They are right behind us.

“It’s great to be part of this group and long may it continue.”

Cooper is one of a number of Leeds star’s eyeing up a place at Qatar next winter.

Elland Road buddies Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford look set for the Gulf with England while Dan James and Tyler Roberts could yet book their place with Wales.

Cooper would love nothing more than to join them there with Scotland.

But the play-offs are laden with pitfalls and he knows key to increasing our chances is to get a result in the final qualifying match against Denmark tonight to secure a place among the seeds for the semi final.

He said: “It would be unbelievable to face some of my club teammates in a World Cup.

“I’m the captain at Leeds United and I’m proud of the boys. Five or six years ago at Leeds, these players weren’t there.

“We were so far off international football it was unbelievable.

“We have had success at club level and it’s taken us on to the international stage.

“I’m just delighted for my pals. They are good friends of mine and it’s great to see them doing well.

“You want to test yourself against the best nations in the world and Denmark are definitely one of them.

“They have had an unbelievable campaign.

“But it’s an important game for us. Being seeded is very important to us.

“The gaffer has made that clear to the group.

“We look to go and get a result because it would be unbelievable to be seeded.

“We have finished in the group. We have done what we set out to do.

“But being seeded is definitely on our radar and I think we can do that.”

Denmark have romped through the group and could complete the set with a 100 per cent record at Hampden on Monday evening. Cooper was at the heart of the Scots defence which was given a torrid time in the 2-0 defeat in Copenhagen just over two months ago.

But he said: “We took a hit that night in Denmark.

“We had a crazy five or ten minutes.

“The first half probably wasn’t up to our standards.

“We made a good ding-dong of it in the second half and missed a good chance in the last five minutes.

“Who knows what could have happened? We all know the momentum you get from goals and the swing. But it wasn’t meant to be.

“We stuck to it after that game. The morale was there, the confidence was high and the boys had to go and get some results and we’ve done that.

“Hopefully we can get another result on Monday night and put that right.”

Meanwhile, Cooper has urged Scotland’s suspension tightrope walkers to throw caution to the wind and go all guns blazing to grab a World Cup play-off seeding.

Eight players are just one booking away from being ruled out of the semi-final including skipper Andy Robertson and midfield maestros Billy Gilmour and John McGinn.

But, as they chase the result that would clinch a spot among the seeds, Cooper said: “You just have to go and blank it out although it’s hard not to think about it.

“We all know when the emotions are flying high, it’s hard to keep a lid on it sometimes.

“The best way to approach it is to blank it out and play it just like any other game.

“It’s a bit of a bizarre rule. There are a lot of games and for it not to be wiped is bizarre.

“It is what it is. Every nation is up against it, we have to deal with it and we will do.

“The seeding situation is definitely in the back of our minds. The manager has made it clear he wants to be seeded in the play-offs and we believe it’s well within our reach.

“We have to do everything we can to get a result and make that happen. It’s down to us but we’d definitely deserve a seeded spot if we achieve it.”

Goalkeeper Craig Gordon will become Hearts most capped player against the Danes this evening and Cooper has been blown away by the standards set by the 38-year-old.

He said: “Craig Is unbelievable to be around. He’s quite quiet and keeps himself to himself.

“What he has done for the nation is unbelievable. He’s made some big, big saves for his country.

“The two the other night were unbelievable – the header in the first half and the penalty in the second half.

“He deserves all the accolades which will come his way.