Steve Clarke has thanked his Scotland squad for allowing him to fulfil a guarantee he made to the Scottish Football Association board before the start of Euro 2024 qualifying.
Spain’s victory against Norway on Sunday ensured Scotland have reached the finals in Germany next summer with two Group A matches to spare. Clarke revealed on the eve of the friendly with France in Lille that he told his employers precisely what he expected his team to achieve.
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“The players made sure I didn’t break a promise,” Clarke said. “After the draw I had to have a board meeting. I told them that this group would qualify directly for Euro 2024. No playoffs, I said they would go straight there. So I made it.
“I had confidence, belief. I know what we’ve got. I know we’ve got a good team. The draw had been made and I was 100% confident. I think we’ve qualified like a good team. So let’s embrace that.”
Clarke offered a smile and a “no comment” when asked about the scale of his team’s party in a Glasgow hotel as the Spain and Norway clash reached full time. The Scotland manager said: “You have to learn to enjoy the moment, obviously within limits because we are playing one of the best teams – if not the best team – in the world tomorrow night and although it is a friendly it is still an important game. But you have to enjoy the moment. And I think they enjoyed it.
“Everyone was there watching the game, which was good. And when they had their wee celebratory couple of hours, everyone was there as well, which is fantastic. And I mean everyone. Even the old guys. I was in my bed at ten past one. I was the first away. There was a curfew. And they stuck to the curfew, they made the curfew. The boys are good.”
Clarke admits it will be exceptionally difficult for Scotland to top their qualifying section by the time it concludes. They are level on points with Spain and tied on the head‑to‑head after six matches but Luis de la Fuente’s team have a vastly superior goal difference. Scotland close the group with November games against Georgia and Norway.
“There is no disgrace in matching Spain’s tally at this stage of the competition,” Clarke said. “It will need a hell of a swing in goal difference to change it in our favour. What I would like to do is match Spain’s [points] tally then we can say we were the equal of Spain qualifying, that would be nice.
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“We can start planning [for the finals] but we do not want to get too far ahead of ourselves. There are still challenges that I have set my players; can we finish on the same points tally as Spain? We still have two big games next month and obviously a tough friendly with France.
“We have two competitive matches and five friendlies between now and next summer. We can use them to try to develop. We have to stay humble. I say that all the time. We have to understand that we think we can get better. And we have to use these seven matches to try to improve.”
Clarke will be without the injured Andy Robertson and Aaron Hickey for the game in France. Ryan Porteous and John McGinn are carrying knocks which are likely to see them among the substitutes. Bologna’s Lewis Ferguson will start for the visitors in midfield. The France manager Didier Deschamps refused to confirm whether Kylian Mbappé will play on a pitch which has been affected by recent Rugby World Cup matches.