Steve Clarke: It's a missed opportunity but I tried hard to find the right words to thank players

Scotland manager Steve Clarke will focus on the positive after Euro 2020 qualification  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)Scotland manager Steve Clarke will focus on the positive after Euro 2020 qualification  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Scotland manager Steve Clarke will focus on the positive after Euro 2020 qualification (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Steve Clarke had to compose himself before entering his players’ dressing-room following Scotland’s defeat to Israel in Netanya.

This wasn’t because he was angry at the way in which his side had thrown away two chances to finish top of their Nations League group and secure promotion – and possibly a World Cup play-off place – in the bargain.

Yes the manager was frustrated, he could not hide that. After all, Scotland know the value of a play-off place having just qualified for Euro 2020 by the same route.

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That potential fall-back option has now closed. Sunday’s defeat to Slovakia coupled with the loss to Israel by the same 1-0 scoreline meant Scotland were supplanted by Czech Republic at the top of the group. A team the Scots beat twice have now been promoted to League A, where they could face the likes of England, France and Spain.

Czech Republic will also will wait to see whether they have sealed a play-off place for Qatar 2022, providing they need one following regulation qualifying. Scotland’s only hope of reaching the next World Cup is by finishing in the top two in their qualifying group. The draw takes place next month.

Asked if it was a missed opportunity, Clarke replied: “I think so. You have to be honest, it was a chance to top the section. A little bit of quality was missing when we needed it. We wanted to be top, we wanted to challenge ourselves in the A group. It wasn’t so long ago it was the C group, and next time it will be B group again – maybe it gives us a little more time to keep building.”

Clarke sought to find the right tone to ensure his players appreciated what they had done in sealing a Euro 2020 place against Serbia six days earlier. He chose his words very carefully when speaking to an emotionally drained group, the majority of whom had featured in at least some action over the course of the three games.

“One of the reasons I am late to this press conference I wanted to say the right words to the players in the dressing room,” said Clarke. “I wanted to calm down and compose myself and make sure I did find them. I wanted to thank them for their efforts this week. Let’s not forget how the country felt on Friday morning when they woke up. It was a magnificent achievement. We have to take that positivity into the World Cup campaign.”

Clarke admitted his side have to learn to take chances if they are to excel at this level. Just one goal in 300 minutes’ worth of action points to where the main problem lies.

“We have to keep working, keep believing we have goals in the team,” he said. “There were 14,15,16 shots tonight, seven on target. One or two chances at this level have to be goals if you want to be successful.” On how he would sum up the week, Clarke concluded: “Qualifying for a major tournament. We have to take the highs from the week. We are all professional and we go away slightly disappointed at losing two games 1-0, but it is important to focus on the positive – and it was a big positive.”

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