Steve Clarke explains why Scotland are captivating fans as they push to make history against Georgia
and live on Freeview channel 276
Even with a play-off place guaranteed, Scotland are engrossed in seizing automatic qualification for next summer’s European Championship in Germany. That is the message from national coach Steve Clarke ahead of Tuesday’s potentially historic tie with Georgia at Hampden Park.
Victory for the Scots would be the first time they have won the first four games in any qualifying campaign. Five wins in a row underpinned qualification for Euro 1996 as Scotland defeated San Marino twice, Faroe Islands, Greece, and Finland, but not from the first match. This is edging towards the most emphatic start to a campaign ever.
Clarke refuses to get carried away. After beating Cyprus and Spain in March, then following up with a dramatic late comeback to defeat Norway 2-1 in Oslo on Saturday, he is simply aspiring towards another three points. The safety net of a play-off achieved through the Nations League is not in his mind as Scotland sit proudly top of Group A with a 100 per cent record and a five-point lead over second-placed Georgia.
“Football has got a great habit of coming back to bite you. You have to respect the game. Every team is good,” he said. “I know what can happen if you switch off. We will try and make sure that we don’t make any mistakes tomorrow night.
“I just want to win the next game. It [potentially winning four in a row for the first time] doesn’t compute in my head. Maybe I am different. After you have done it you can say: ‘That was great, we did that’. But it is not at the forefront of my mind something like that. I just want to qualify from the group.
“If we get good points now and get good points in September or October or November – I don’t care when the points come. I just want to get the right amount of points to make sure we go to Germany. They come when they come. If it takes until the last game and we still qualify, then that’s what we have to do. That doesn’t bother me. I just want to make sure that this group of lads go to another major tournament.”
Finishing first or second in the section guarantees passage to the finals. “It would be good. We have spoken about it,” admitted Clarke. “Before the last camp, somebody mentioned the play-offs and I said: ’What play-offs?’ Everybody looked at me as if I was daft, but I knew what I was saying. We speak only about automatic qualification, that’s the only thing we have in our heads.”
The Tartan Army rejoiced long into the Norse night after Saturday’s victory and Hampden is expected to be sold out for Georgia. “The support has probably doubled since the time when I came in,” stated Clarke, who said he has a full squad fit and available. “People want to be here, they want to watch this team. Don’t underestimate how much the players enjoy it. They like coming here, human beings like to be loved. They walk out there and they get that big reception and the national anthem before the game and it makes the lads feel good.”