Ryan Fraser accusations branded 'unfair' as Scotland target Euro 2024 play-off
However, the national manager appears more concerned with his team’s purpose than personnel in seeking his Scotland side to rediscover a poise absent in their trials across the end-of-season international period. It naturally still rankles with Clarke that his men didn’t show the best of themselves in having World Cup hopes ended by Ukraine in a 3-1 play-off semi-final defeat at Hampden on June 1. What followed, a horrendous 3-0 reverse away to the Republic of Ireland in the Nations League sandwiched between patchy home-and-a-way victories over Armenia in the competition amounted to a four-game stretch in which he says Scotland exhibited, what he euphemistically calls, “hesitation”.
That requires to be banished as the latest group phase of the Nations League concludes with next Wednesday’s Hampden hosting of Ukraine, before Ireland visit on the Saturday and then Scotland play away to Ukraine three days later. Three wins are required to top Group 1 in League B, and so guarantee at least a play-off place for Euro 2024 and promotion to the A tier. Clarke will be without injured captain and Liverpool full-back Andy Robertson for these games, but believes there is a trade-off.
“It’s a blow for Andy, a blow for us and a blow for his club as well,” he said. “But we lose one top quality left-back and we’ve got another one coming back to the squad in Kieran [Tierney]. It’s just part and parcel of international football. You know you’re going to lose some players. In this one we’ve lost Andy, John Souttar, Liam Cooper’s not fit and available. There are a few of the boys in the squad who’ve not had many minutes on the pitch. We’ll deal with it and we hope we’ll start to progress forward again after a little hesitation in June.”
Ryan Fraser will be leaned on in that drive, the Newcastle United winger back in the squad following the controversy that ensued from his squad withdrawal last November. Clarke considers “unfair” accusations over the player’s commitment to his country revolved around him then being pictured training for his club. “It’s just a picture,” said the Scotland manager. “You can always go on the training pitch even though you’ve got an injury. He probably wasn’t training flat out but would have been working towards his recovery. If I wasn’t totally satisfied [about his commitment] he wouldn’t be in the squad.”
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