Steve Clarke: Scotland's show must go on despite some rumblings from clubs like Celtic
Scotland manager Steve Clarke has defended continuing to play international football amid a pandemic as his side prepares to face Czech Republic tonight.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the latest high-profile player to leave an international camp after he tested positive for Covid-19 prior to Portugal’s Nation League fixture against Sweden.
Czech Republic manager Jaroslav Silhavy will not be on the touchline at Hampden Park for the Group B2 fixture this evening after he returned a positive test. An unnamed Czech Republic player will also be missing for the same reason.
But Clarke, who lost Stuart Armstrong from his squad last week after another positive test result, stressed the show has to go on. In addition to Armstrong, the Scotland manager has had to endure being without Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie, both of whom were considered to have been in particularly close contact to the Southampton midfielder.
Celtic have expressed concern at losing Christie, who is being forced to self-isolate for 14 days, ahead of this weekend’s Old Firm derby. “If it wasn’t for the last Nations League campaign then we’d already be out of the Euros 2020,” argued Clarke.
“Instead we’re all sitting here excited and looking forward to next month where we have the chance to go to Serbia and qualify for our first major tournament in 22 years.
“It’s a tournament we can’t speak badly about. The work that Alex McLeish started with the players he had available in the last section - winning the league C section - has enabled us to have this one-off shot now.
“For us it’s a competition we should take seriously. It’s why I want to get a positive result against the Czech Republic, so we can finish this month top of the group.
“If we can do that then maybe next month we can get more good result and win the section. That could give us another second option for Qatar 2022. We could hopefully have the back-up of another play-off place.
I think that’s important to a nation like Scotland.”
Scotland returned a full complement of negative tests yesterday morning, which Clarke said proved the Scotland protocols within the camp are working. “It was a relief,” he said. “I think there were a few people within the camp who were a little bit nervous about it all.”
Clarke has already lost John Fleck and Liam Cooper due to injury. Fleck was the latest to drop out after failing to shake off a back injury sustained in the 1-0 over Slovakia on Sunday night. He has since returned to his club, Sheffield United. Clarke admits next month’s Euro 2020 play-off final clash against Serbia is already weighing on his mind. Some of his selection decisions tonight will reflect this.
“I have to speak to the medical staff and work out which players are robust enough to start all three games - and the ones that maybe couldn’t do that,” he said.
“I’m also quite mindful of the fact that it’s only four weeks until the play-off final next month so if we lose someone with a serious muscle injury then they could be touch and go for that game. So, as well as protecting the clubs, we have to think about ourselves as well so, yes, there will be some changes.”