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Christophe Berra ready to make the most of his second chance at Hearts

Heart of Midlothian v Celtic – Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership – Tynecastle Park
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

Christophe Berra is determined to seize his unlikely opportunity to add silverware to his Hearts collection in last season’s delayed William Hill Scottish Cup final.

The defender’s Hearts career looked over following last year’s Boxing Day defeat by Hibernian when new boss Daniel Stendel told his club captain he was surplus to requirements.

Berra went on loan to Dundee and his new team kept five clean sheets in the six games he played before the pandemic forced the suspension of Scottish football.

Hearts joined Dundee in the Scottish Championship following their disputed relegation and Robbie Neilson recalled Berra to his first-team squad after replacing Stendel as manager.

After recovering from a pre-season injury, the 35-year-old has forced his way into the Hearts team for the last four games, just in time for Sunday’s Hampden clash with Celtic

Berra said: “It’s been a funny old year and there ‘s no hiding the fact that, if there was no pandemic, I wouldn’t be involved. The old manager would be here and I wouldn’t be.

“I am very fortunate and I’m glad to be here and hope I get selected for the game.”

Berra goes for goal during last year's final

Berra goes for goal during last year’s final (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Berra, who was on the bench when Hearts won the trophy in 2006 and played in the 2019 final defeat by Celtic, added: “I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in two cup finals and some people will never be involved in any.

“If you go through most leagues throughout the world, it’s a handful of teams who are playing in cup finals. When these opportunities come along, you need to grasp it.

“There’s less experienced players and younger boys in the squad and they really need to know that, unless you are playing for the top teams, these opportunities sometimes come few and far between.

Berra, top right, was in the Hearts squad in 2006

Berra, top right, was in the Hearts squad in 2006 (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“It’s a big occasion and you need to enjoy it.”

Like most things these days, the occasion will be highly different to normal with the final squeezed into the final weeks of 2020, just ahead of the traditionally hectic festive league schedule.

Closed-door games remain a strange experience midway into the Scottish season and the setting will be even more unusual for a cup final, but Berra is determined to savour the occasion.

“It can go either way, you could win the cup and it will be a great Christmas,” the former Scotland defender said. “If you don’t, it could be a bit of a downer.

“I don’t know if there’s been any cup final, certainly not in Scotland, but anywhere around the world, that’s five days before Christmas. It’s very unique.

“Everyone will be glued to their televisions, Hearts fans, Celtic fans, fans throughout Scotland and the UK, because it’s a big game.

“Even though there won’t be a crowd there, which is very disappointing, and that sometimes makes these games, it is a cup final and if you look back in 10 years, 20 years, you are either going to have a winners’ medal or a runners-up medal.

“There are little things like going through to Hampden to the press and other duties for media and sponsors, and this year you can’t do that, you have to hold back because of the circumstances.

“But we will still be turning up at Hampden, the changing rooms will be decked out, hopefully the pitch will still be in good condition and the stadium is looking good and there’s banners about that give it that feel that it is a big occasion.

“It is bitterly disappointing there’s no fans there and we understand why, but it is a cup final and you can’t take that away from it.”