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STEVEN FLETCHER insists he retains his passion for playing for Scotland as he outlined his dilemma over missing their opening Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Fletcher asked to be left out of the squad for the games against Kazakhstan and San Marino in order to manage his fitness after establishing himself as a key player for new Sheffield Wednesday boss Steve Bruce.
The 31-year-old missed the final six months of last season with a knee injury but returned to the Scotland fold in style in November as he helped the team to consecutive wins over Albania and Israel to claim top spot in Nations League Group C1.
However, Fletcher sustained knee and ankle knocks earlier in March and was missing from the squad despite starting for Wednesday hours after Scotland manager Alex McLeish named his pool.
McLeish and assistant James McFadden both failed to persuade the former Hibernian striker to play and — in the end — Fletcher went off with a groin injury in a game against Blackburn 24 hours before the Scotland squad met up.
Fletcher told the Sheffield Wednesday website: “I am passionate about playing for my country and I made the decision with a very heavy heart.
“With the knee injury I had, it held me back for a long time, and I couldn’t take a chance on aggravating it again. It would just put me back to square one again.
“On [the] doctor’s advice, and kind of on personal advice, I thought it’d be best to leave it.
“I played for Wednesday against Blackburn and the knee was fine on the grass but I pulled my groin.
“Since then I’ve been working overtime with the physios. I was initially really disappointed but now I’m more upbeat because I’ve looked after my body over the past few months and that can only help with my recovery.”
With Steven Naismith and Leigh Griffiths also unavailable, Fletcher’s absence was keenly felt as Scotland went down 3-0 in Kazakhstan last Thursday on the artificial surface at Astana Arena.
Swansea’s Oli McBurnie started in Fletcher’s place while Cardiff’s Callum Paterson returned up front for Sunday’s 2-0 win on the grass park of San Marino, only to go off with an injury in the first half.
Former Scotland skipper Darren Fletcher criticised the players who missed the opening game because of the artificial surface — Paterson and Ryan Fraser also sat it out.
But Wednesday manager Bruce came to Fletcher’s defence.
“I feel for Steven because he has so much passion for Scotland and he was as desperate to play as always,” he said.
“But he was managing his own situation. He has to be careful with his knee, and both of these games were on artificial surfaces, which would not be the best for him.
“Steven played for us against Blackburn and picked up a groin injury and again, we have to be sensible, we took him off when the game was very finely poised at 1-0.
“He’s been in with the physios all week having treatment and we want him back out there as soon as possible.”
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