Steve Clarke: Important to appreciate value of Nations League
Steve Clarke has stressed the importance of the Nations League as group leaders Scotland prepare to host Czech Republic tomorrow night.
Although next month’s play-off final against Serbia is occupying the minds of the Tartan Army, the Scotland manager has sought to remind fans how this opportunity came about.
Scotland stand 90 minutes from Euro 2020 only because they managed to win their group in the inaugural Nations League tournament under Alex McLeish.
Scotland have since negotiated a play-off semi-final against Israel after winning their first-ever penalty shoot-out following the 0-0 draw.
“It is another avenue,” said Clarke. “I think we realise the value of the Nations League because it is an avenue that has given us the chance to play Serbia in a play-off final.
“It is a competition when we went into the B section we looked at it, we looked at the group and we were determined to give a good account of ourselves. We are determined to finish this month top of the section.”
To do this they must avoid defeat against Czech Republic, who sit just four places above Scotland in the Fifa rankings. Clarke’s side defeated a much-changed Czech Republic side 2-1 in Olomouc last month after Covid-19 outbreak forced the hosts to call-up a whole new team at 48 hours’ notice.
Scotland, who complete the section with trips to face Israel and Slovakia next month, must finish top of their group to have a chance of being handed a World Cup play-off place for Qatar 2022 and providing they have not already qualified through the normal qualification process.
The ten runners-up from the World Cup qualifying group sections will be joined by the two best Nations League group winners that failed to finish in the top two of their qualifying group.
The 12 teams will then be drawn in three play-off paths - as now, this will involve a semi-final and a final, with the three winners qualifying for the World Cup finals, due to take place between 21 November and 18 December in 2022.
Meanwhile, Clarke has called up Hibs centre-half Paul Hanlon after Leeds United skipper Liam Cooper returned to his club after picking up an injury against Israel last week.