Steve Clarke says time has come for Scotland to create history
National boss believes the incentive is clear in upcoming play-off matches
Scotland players have been urged to go out and write their names into the history books by sealing a spot at next summer’s European Championship finals.
Manager Steve Clarke has described the absence of fans at Hampden for the upcoming play-off semi-final against Israel as “definitely not ideal” but he is backing his team to create their own Hampden roar.
Just over a month since the sides drew 1-1 in the vacant national stadium, he believes his players are better placed to carve out the win that would take them within touching distance of Scotland’s first appearance at a major tournament since 1998.
“I think players in general, not just our group, like to perform in front of a crowd,” Clarke acknowledged. “It’s probably no different to an actor or actress in the theatre. The reason you want to be on the stage or on the pitch is to perform in front of people.
“Football without fans can be difficult. Listen, there’s been a lot of good, exciting games behind closed doors but without the fans and the passion they bring, it’s just not the same. We miss that.
“But we have to make sure we are intense because we understand the magnitude of the game and what it means to everybody. We are all determined to make sure we get the right result.”
In a one-off tie, with the victors going on to face either Norway or Serbia away in the play-off final, the only right result is a win and given the magnitude of what is at stake, Clarke’s accepts that this should be one match where players will have no trouble in motivating themselves.
“No, it’s one that’s been building for a long time,” he said. “It’s been on the cards for over a year now - we always knew this game was going to be the big one. Finally it’s almost here and I think the players are looking forward to it because they’ve had such a long wait and the tension has been building all the time.
“This is an opportunity for them to write a little bit of history. To write themselves into history and create history for Scottish football.
“It would be a great achievement and we are all aware of how much it means to everybody. The players are especially aware because they all want to be involved in a major final as all these guys play at the top level.
“I played at the top level but I didn’t get the chance to represent my country at a major final so if I could do it as a manager it would be great. But it’s the same for the players. They know every tournament that passes us by without qualification is one tournament closer to the end of their careers.
“So we have a good squad, at a good age and we’re starting to pick up a lot of experience and international caps. But it does get to the stage where you have to say: ‘Come on, it’s time to qualify!’ Hopefully this will be it.”
There were question marks about the way Clarke approached the recent Nations League games against Israel and Czech Republic, switching formations and moving Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay into a centre-back role. It led to accusations of the Scotland coach attempting, unnecessarily, to squeeze square pegs into round holes.
“I’m not going to give anything away in terms of the nitty gritty of tactics as Israel will want to know what we’re planning but what I would say is that the players and myself were reasonably comfortable with the system we used in the last two games,” he said.
“It gave me an opportunity to utilise players in positions that they play for their clubs. The only one would be Scott McTominay who probably hasn’t played right-sided centre back in a three for Manchester United. But if you analyse his performances over the two games they were actually OK. I know he got caught under a cross which gave Israel a big chance in the first game and that’s the one everyone highlights. But I’ve played with a lot of top center-backs and let me tell you, all defenders at some point get caught under a cross. That’s all that happened.
“In the second game, because we gave the ball away twice in 30 seconds, it exposed the midfield, exposed the back defence and exposed Scott to a good run and through ball. If you take those two moments out, his performance wasn’t too bad. I know he can play that position and the more he plays it the better he’ll get.
“But it wasn’t a square peg [in a round hole]. It was probably an oval peg. It wasn’t so far off the mark and everyone else who played in that formation has played there before.
“For a year I was being asked how to I get Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson into the same team. Well, that is one solution because Kieran plays left of a back three for Arsenal and Andy plays like a wing back for Liverpool. That’s why he pops up in the six-yard box the other night [against Arsenal] and scores the goal that he scores. So it’s a formation and system that suits them both very well.”
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