Steve Clarke had already picked his Scotland team before Covid-19 savaged Israel preparations

Steve Clarke has admitted he had already picked his side ahead of tonight’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel before Stuart Armstrong’s positive Covid-19 test left his plans in disarray.
Scotland manager Steve ClarkeScotland manager Steve Clarke
Scotland manager Steve Clarke

The manager is confident Scotland can recover from the blow of losing Armstrong as well as Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie, who were deemed to have been in close contact with the Southampton midfielder this week. He has challenged those players now set to step up to make a name for themselves.

Clarke must also do without injured defenders Scott McKenna and Liam Palmer and forward Oli Burke. Like the Covid 19-related absentees, they will miss all three upcoming games against Israel, Slovakia and Czech Republic.

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Clarke named a 26-man squad last week to cover any drop-outs but he did not expect to have to deal with such late drama as Armstrong’s returned positive test yesterday.

The Southampton midfielder passed an initial SFA administered test when he arrived at the camp but failed a subsequent Uefa test, with the result made known yesterday morning.

The fact Tierney was judged to have been in close contact with Armstrong this week presented a particular problem for Clarke. The Scotland manager switched to a back three for the last two outings against Israel and Czech Republic last month chiefly to accommodate both Tierney and Andy Robertson, who both prefer to play left back. Tierney did not feature against Czech Republic but was expected to return tonight.

“I had shown the team on the training pitch,” said Clarke. “But it’ll be a big opportunity now for other players to come in and do well for us.

“It’s just difficult for everybody, with Stuart the one who tested positive and then two of his team-mates because of their close proximity to him. They have suffered the consequences so all three of the boys are really, really, really down. All we can do is make sure we get the right result and they’re involved again in November.”

Scotland are bidding to reach the play-off final against either Serbia or Norway next month. Clarke admitted he might have to alter his entire formation due to the late withdrawals.

“We have another training session after this and I’m going to have a look at two different things and then decide on the best way to go forward,” he said yesterday afternoon, before a final training session.

“The good thing, with the way we work here, is that even though I shape up one team in the way I want to go - and have the other players shaped up the way the opposition will be - I’m always very mindful of the fact that the other players could be involved. I tell them to pay careful attention to any information they get.

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“We try to spread the word right throughout the squad, rather than just the starting eleven,” he added. “So, when I make the changes, hopefully the ones who come into the team will slot in seamlessly. What a fantastic chance it’s going to be for players to make a name for themselves.”

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