The mentality switch Scotland can rely on as Euro 2024 fever strikes

Scanning the horizon for the next challenge - Clarke during Hampden draw with Finland.Scanning the horizon for the next challenge - Clarke during Hampden draw with Finland.
Scanning the horizon for the next challenge - Clarke during Hampden draw with Finland. | SNS Group
Gaffer Clarke backs team to go ‘full steam ahead’ against Germany

Scotland boss Steve Clarke is ‘100 per cent’ certain that his players will be pushing themselves to the very limit now that they’ve come through the most nerve-wracking phase of the pre-Euros build-up. And he insists the return of a proper ‘competitive edge’ will stand the Scots in good stead as they take on tournament hosts Germany in Friday night’s opener.

“Now that they’re there, they’re in the competition, it’s full steam ahead,” said Clarke. The gaffer, about to take his country to a second major finals under his leadership, admitted that he’d noticed nerves creeping into the squad as Scotland warmed up for Euro 2024 with semi-competitive games against Gibraltar and Finland.

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Asked if the tension so evident in the Algarve on Monday night and at Hampden on Friday evening would be blown away by the challenge of taking on the Germans, Hungary and Switzerland in a bid to become the first Scottish men’s team in history to progress beyond the group stages of a major final. Clarke said: “One hundred per cent. The competitive edge will be back. The desire to not lose. 

‘We will be full on 100 per cent. I’m not saying we went out against Finland to try and lose, but you go out and it’s always in the back of your mind. 

‘Especially with Lyndon Dykes getting injured. I think what happened with Lyndon spooked them a little bit. 

“I think the team is in a good place. We know what we are, within our group. We know that the build-up games, the run of difficult friendlies, we picked them so the players would understand how difficult it is against the top teams – and how good they’re going to have to be in this tournament.

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“They know that. I know that. Now we have a day off, clear our heads, go to Germany and prepare for the first team, see what we can. “

Clarke singled out Andy Robertson for praise as the Liverpool star set a new record of 49 appearances as Scotland captain. On and off the field, the manager insisted, Robbo is crucial to this group.

Referencing the fact that a number of commemorative shirts were handed out after the game, with Craig Gordon getting his 75th cap, Grant Hanley hitting the half century and Tommy Conway making his full international debut, Clarke said of his skipper: “He didn’t get a special shirt. He’s definitely not finished!

“That’s 49 games I think as captain now and that’s now the record. You look at Andy and think: ‘Come on Andy, there are a few more to come.’

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“He has been great for me. He came in and got the captaincy at a really young age but has really grown into the role. He’s a proper leader. 

“Tommy Conway got a strip signed with number one on it and there was one with 50 on it for Grant Hanley and 75 for Craig. These things come from the captain. It’s his idea, it’s his thoughts going into this saying: ‘This is what we’re about. Let’s keep the group right and make sure we are always giving these little mementoes.’

“They get a silver medal for 25 caps and a gold medal for 50. I don’t know what they get for 75. But it always takes about a month before they actually get those medals, so it’s nice on the night to actually give something out and that’s the thinking behind that. 

“The performance from Andy against Finland, he was always on the front foot. He’s a proper captain for me.”

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While Robertson and Kieran Tierney will continue their partnership on the left side for Scotland, Anthony Ralston looked more comfortable at right wing-back than Ross McCrorie had against Gibraltar, Clarke saying: “He was good. I thought he started the game quite safe.

“He plays for a club side who pass the ball a lot, so I imagine his training sessions will be pretty much possession based. He is good on the ball, keeps the ball, doesn’t give it away in dangerous areas. He started to get in the right positions, put in a few good decent crosses into the box.”