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Fletcher looking to future after ending international exile
STEVEN Fletcher has expressed regret at the length of his international exile and pledged to score the goals that will help take Scotland to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.
Fletcher will make his first international appearance for almost two years when Scotland face Wales on Friday evening, having returned to the fold after patching up his differences with boss Craig Levein last week.
The Sunderland striker has not been involved with the Scotland squad since texting a member of the Scottish Football Association staff to state that he did not wish to be selected ahead of a game with Cyprus last March.
He admits the impasse was allowed to carry on too long, but insists his sole focus is now a World Cup qualifying campaign that is already in jeopardy after Scotland drew with Serbia and Macedonia.
"The manager touched on how the situation came about last week," said Fletcher, who has scored five goals in five Premier League games since joining Sunderland in a £12m move from Wolves.
"I am desperate to play for Scotland again and, like Craig, I regret that it has taken this long to come about. I'm sure we have both done a lot of thinking during the last two years but the country comes first.
"I think it just became apparent that we all needed to move on. The most important thing is that I can look to restart my international career."When I first spoke to Craig again it was fine and was not awkward at all. We both said our piece and agreed that whatever happened, the country comes first."
Fletcher's frustration with the Scotland set-up is understood to have stemmed from his anger at being omitted from the starting line-up for a Euro 2012 qualifier in Czech Republic.
That game infamously saw Levein set up his side in a 4-6-0 formation, something that infuriated Fletcher, who had been in fine domestic form with Wolves at the time.
Scotland have struggled in front of goal without him, and having trained with his international team-mates for the first time since his recall yesterday, the 25-year-old is delighted to be back.
"I'm just happy to be back as part of the squad and looking to make a positive contribution in what are two massive World Cup qualifiers," he said.
"I had a good chat with the manager when he came to visit at the training ground last week and it while it was important we discussed the past and put it to bed, it was more important that we focused on the future.
"I understand why people want to know what changed but the truth, as the manager said last week, was that the situation wasn't helping anyone."I am a proud Scot and it is a privilege to play for my country. Everyone knows it has been too long since we last qualified for a major finals and I want to do my bit to help us reach Brazil."
Fletcher also paid tribute to his Sunderland team-mate Phil Bardsley, who was instrumental in paving the way for last week's peace talks, and his new manager, Martin O'Neill, who has been wholly supportive of his decision to return to the international stage even though it could be argued that it is not really in the Black Cats' best interests.
"I am delighted with the way things have gone at Sunderland, and am a more experienced player than I was two years ago," said Fletcher. "The manager has been very supportive, as has Phil Bardsley - who is gutted to be missing through injury."