No sooner had the Cyprus manager Temuri Ketsbaia declared Scotland have already qualified for next summer’s European Championship than Steve Clarke comprehensively dismissed the notion. “Football can bite you on the bum,” said the Scotland manager.
Victory for Clarke’s men over Cyprus on Friday would make it five wins from as many matches in Group A. In that circumstance, Scotland could seal a finals berth as early as Tuesday if other results go their way. Ketsbaia insisted the Scots are already bound for Germany. “I believe they have already qualified,” said the former Newcastle United midfielder. “I am not surprised they are at the top of the group. I am sure they will finish first or second.”
Clarke raised an eyebrow when informed of his opposite number’s belief. “That’s not the mindset we want to have,” he said. “We want to treat every opponent correctly and want to get as many points on the table as we can. This is another opportunity for us to add to our total so far. So I don’t agree with that.
“If you do as well as we have done, to be above Spain at this moment in time, is obviously nice but there are still four games to go. So let’s see how the group pans out before we all get too carried away.”
Scotland’s fans – 5,000 are expected in Larnaca – may harbour aspirations of topping this section when it finishes but Clarke maintained his theme. “We want to qualify,” he added. “First and foremost we want to qualify. After we qualify, if we qualify, then we can quantify what we want to do next.”
Scotland have been boosted by Billy Gilmour’s appearances in Brighton’s first four Premier League games and the inevitability that Kieran Tierney will return to regular club football now he is on loan at Real Sociedad. The downside relates to Scott McTominay, who looks out of the picture at Manchester United. “I’ve had one or two conversations with Scott already about how the season might pan out for him,” Clarke explained. “Similar to Kieran last year, it’s important when they are at a club and not playing regularly that they train very hard and work very hard and, when they do get the minutes, do everything they can to be successful.
“Everybody is different. Scott will deal with it differently to Kieran and differently to Billy but as long as they keep turning up here for Scotland doing what they do, we should be happy with that.”
Clarke convinced Elliot Anderson to choose Scotland over England in international context, only for the Newcastle player to withdraw from the squad for the clash with Cyprus and Tuesday’s visit of England to Hampden Park. While Clarke appeared relaxed about understandable speculation Anderson may be having second thoughts, he was not totally emphatic about the situation.
“I think he enjoyed it,” said Clarke of Anderson’s brief training appearance. “It was a great experience for a young kid. Fingers crossed that he comes back. “He felt something in training and he got assessed by the medical staff. We were going to put him on a plane for five hours. You analyse, and was it worth bringing him? No, it was too long. Go back to your club, get yourself ready for your next game. I didn’t feel there was a great conspiracy. It didn’t feel that way to me.”