Steve Clarke tells Scotland to forget Euro 2024 playoff and take on Spain

  • Clarke: ‘We don’t speak about playoff. We want to qualify direct’
  • Lyndon Dykes will start and Scott McTominay likely for first XI

Talk of Scotland qualifying for Euro 2024 via the playoff place they have already secured has been banished from the squad, Steve Clarke has revealed, with the head coach making clear the focus is on qualifying automatically for the tournament.

Scotland’s Nations League exploits mean a one-off tie for the finals in Germany is secure, regardless of how they fare in Group A. Yet with Scotland having opened their campaign with a 3-0 win over Cyprus on Saturday before Tuesday’s visit of Spain to Hampden Park, Clarke maintained there is no prospect of complacency.

When the fallback plan was put to him, a bullish Clarke said: “What playoff? We want to qualify direct. That’s my answer to the question. We do not speak about the playoff.

“I have not spoken to the players about the playoff. I just want to go through the group. That’s the mentality. So we have to go with that mentality. I know what you are saying, it gives you the ‘freedom’ to go and play because if you mess up … but there’s no point thinking about the playoff. It does not take any pressure off this game because we want to qualify out of the group stage.”

Scotland have not beaten Spain since 1984, when Clarke was in the Hampden crowd to see Kenny Dalglish score a famous goal in a 3-1 victory. But the 59-year-old manager is adamant his side can overcome opponents ranked 10th in the world.

Scott McTominay (right) is expected to return to the starting line-up after scoring twice off the bench against Cyprus.
Scott McTominay (right) is expected to return to the starting line-up after scoring twice off the bench against Cyprus. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

“We have players who have played Champions League football and Europa League football,” he said. “Some play in the English Premier League against top‑quality opposition every week. So the majority of the team, in fact the majority of the squad at this minute, are used to this level of opposition.

“Therefore we shouldn’t be going in with a feeling of being the underdog. I know we love that, the Scottish mentality is that we love being the underdog. But I think we can be competitive against Spain at Hampden. I think the players think they can be competitive against Spain at Hampden.”

Clarke confirmed Lyndon Dykes will start in attack in place of the injured Ché Adams. Scott McTominay, who came off the bench to score twice against Cyprus, is also likely to return to the starting XI.

The Netherlands kickstarted their Euro 2024 campaign after their 4-0 defeat to France, but Ronald Koeman's side were still far from convincing as they beat 10-man Gibraltar 3-0 in Rotterdam.

Memphis Depay headed home Denzel Dumfries' cross for the only goal of the first half before Nathan Aké [pictured] doubled the hosts' lead five minutes after the restart, Dumfries again the provider. Liam Walker was sent off moments later for a studs-up tackle on Mats Wieffer.

The minnows held on to the two-goal deficit until the 82nd minute, when Aké got his second goal via a deflection to secure the team's first points in Group B. 'We were sloppy in possession. It was a very difficult evening,' admitted the Dutch captain, Virgil van Dijk, afterwards.

In Group F, Sweden bounced back from their opening defeat to Belgium as they thumped Azerbaijan 5-0, with Emil Forsberg and Anthony Elanga among the scorers. Forsberg broke the deadlock seven minutes before half-time, with Bahlul Mustafazade's own goal making it 2-0.

Viktor Gyökeres' tap-in put the result beyond doubt, before Jesper Karlsson added a superb free kick with two minutes to go. There was still time for Elanga to complete the scoring in style, running through the defence and rounding the keeper to add a fifth in Stockholm.

Austria are top of the group after a late 2-1 comeback victory over Estonia. The visitors led at half-time through Rauno Sappinen's goal after Michael Gregoritsch had missed a penalty. The Freiburg striker made amends in the 88th minute, netting the winner after Florian Kainz had levelled in Linz.

In Group G, Balint Vecsei, Dominik Szoboszlai and Martin Adam all scored as Hungary began their campaign with a 3-0 home win over Bulgaria. Dusan Vlahovic’s late double earned Serbia a 2-0 victory in nearby Montenegro, along with top spot in the group.

In Group E, Poland earned a narrow 1-0 home win over Albania with Karol Swiderski on target just before the break. After losing to Czech Republic in Friday's opener, Poland are now a point behind the group leaders after they were held to a goalless draw in Moldova. PA Media/Reuters

Spain began their campaign with a 3-0 win against a Norway team missing Erling Haaland. It was Luis de la Fuente’s first game in charge of his country. “I thought they started really well, really sharp, on the front foot,” Clarke said.

“They got themselves in front and then when they had their little dip and their little rest in the game the Norwegians got in and controlled things quite well. They pressed quite well high up the pitch and created a couple of really good chances.

“Spain played almost the same shape as before. Although they have changed the personnel, the style of play and the type of player that they have in all these different positions is pretty much the same.”


Ewan Murray

The GuardianTramp

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