By Kieran Gallagher
Scotland are set to kick off their European Championship qualifying campaign at the end of the month with a double-header against Cyprus and Spain, with both matches taking place at Hampden. Kieran Gallagher previews the forthcoming ties.
The last competitive outing for Scotland came all the way back in September of last year, when Steve Clarke’s men saw off a motivated Ukraine side, holding them to a 0-0 draw and earning promotion to the top tier of the Nations League.
The Nations League has been a useful tool for Scotland to fall back on in the past, but manager Steve Clarke doesn’t want Scotland to rely on it for qualification.
"I don't think with this group of players we'll need it," Clarke said.
"We've reached Pot 2, the A-group of the Nations League. We don't want to stop. We want to keep getting better if we can."
"We've done it again and taken this campaign to the last game. I asked the players to take the next step, so we can show everybody we're improving."
Cyprus at Hampden will be first up for Scotland in the qualifiers, and given the record, it should be relatively straightforward for Steve Clarke’s men. Scotland has a 100% record against Cyprus, the most recent win being a 2-1 victory back in 2019, with Ryan Christie and John McGinn being the scorers on the day.
Cyprus did have a decent 2022 however, picking up victories over Greece, Israel, and Estonia. Scotland fans will recognise Alec Gogić, who has been in the Scottish game for over six years now, other notable Cypriots include Konstantinos Laifis of Belgian side Standard de Liege and Georgios Efrem of Cyprus giants, APOEL FC.
Scotland will then face the 10th ranked place team in the world, Spain. Spain will be hoping to regain some national pride in this qualifying campaign after their disappointing showing during the 2022 World Cup.
Spain exited the tournament in the round of 16 to major underdogs, Morocco. They had held the African side to penalties but ultimately came crashing out of the tournament after not scoring a single penalty they took.
Subsequently, the Spanish Football Federation had announced only two days later that Luis Enrique had been relieved of his duties as Spain Manager and would be replaced by under 21’s manager, Luis de la Fuente.
De la Fuente has already made the headlines due to the fact he had told Spanish defender Sergio Ramos he was no longer needed. Ramos is the most-capped Spanish player ever but has now decided to retire from the international stage.
Ramos stated in a press conference: “With much sorrow, it is the end of a journey that I hoped would be longer and that would end with a better taste in my mouth, at the height of all the successes we have achieved with our Roja.”
Scotland may be looking to call up a few new faces, specifically defensively, as they are without some of Steve Clarke’s most trusted men. Craig Gordon, Calvin Ramsey, Scott McKenna, Jack Hendry, and Nathan Patterson will all be unavailable for selection due to injury.
Other players such as Kieran Tierney, Ryan Fraser, and Billy Gilmour have all been struggling for first-team football, with others such as Scott McTominay and Ryan Christie only making staggered appearances for their respective clubs.
Could Clarke look further afield with his squad selection, however, with Scottish players making waves all over Europe? Both Lewis Ferguson and Josh Doig have been excelling in Italy’s Serie A, with the pair being linked to big-money moves in the summer.
Ben Doak could be another with an outside chance at making the squad. The youngster has impressed in his cameo appearances at Liverpool, and at only 17 years old has shown that he isn’t afraid of the big stage.
All shall be revealed in the coming days, as Steve Clarke is set to announce his first squad of the Euro Qualifying campaign.