Scotland may turn to England for help after landing Ukraine in World Cup play-off draw
Steve Clarke could turn to England manager Gareth Southgate for inside information after Scotland were paired with Ukraine in the World Cup finals play-off draw in Zurich.
The Scots will face the winners of Wales v Austria, the other semi-final in their pathway, in a play-off final if they can negotiate a way past Ukraine on March 24 at Hampden.
Ukraine, now managed by Oleksandr Petrakov after Andriy Shevchenko resigned in August, are no strangers to Hampden.
It is where they defeated Sweden with a last-minute extra-time goal at Euro 2020 in June to set up a quarter-final meeting with England.
This proved a step too far for a team currently ranked at 26 in the Fifa rankings – Scotland are 38 – and they were comprehensively beaten 4-0 by Southgate’s side, who eventually lost in the final to Italy on penalties.
Clarke said it would take some time to digest a draw which has thrown up a prospective British derby against Wales in the play-off final, providing both Scotland and Wales emerge victors in their semi-final appointments. Potentially crucial is that Scotland or Ukraine were drawn to be away from home in the final.
For now, the Scots must focus on beating Ukraine, who finished runners-up in a qualifying group won by France but did so without losing a game. The last time they lost was against England in Rome.
“Obviously we will want to gain as much of an advantage as possible and if I feel big Gareth can help us then I am sure we will bump into each other at some stage over the course of the next four months as we are travelling around the country,” said Clarke.
Scotland, if they can progress past Ukraine, could also play recent foes Austria. They finished fourth in Group F but qualified for the play-offs from the Nations League last year.
Clarke also revealed that discussions look likely to have secured a bookings amnesty ahead of a possible play-off final.
The manager welcomed the prospect after the SFA raised the issue in a competitions committee meeting on Zoom last week. Fifa are expected to ratify the decision. Scotland have eight players, including skipper Andy Robertson, sitting one yellow card away from a suspension.
“The last information I got which is not confirmed or clarified is that it is looking good for an amnesty, so that will be good,” said Clarke.
“It means all the teams can go into the games without the threat of yellow cards hanging over the final, if you are lucky enough to get there. All the games will be keenly contested for sure. There is a massive prize at the end of it.”
Meanwhile, Clarke revealed he had contacted Sheffield United midfielder John Fleck, who caused concern when he collapsed during a game against Reading earlier this week.
The Scotland midfielder last played for Clarke in a 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over the Faroe Isles in March.
“John’s fine,” he said. “I had a little text message exchange, I didn’t want to phone him when he was in hospital. I am sure he had loads and loads of people who wanted to call him.
“John has assured me he is fine. It was a scary moment for everybody and thankfully he seems to be over the worst.”