Steve Clarke lauds Scotland stars but warns World Cup qualification remains 'really difficult' as Israel clash sells out
Steve Clarke has lavished praise on a “better, hungrier” group of players for re-igniting Scotland’s World Cup qualifying hopes after next month’s crucial clash with Israel at Hampden Park sold out.
The manager is the toast of the nation again after steering Scotland back on course for a World Cup play-off place with Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Austria.
It is the first time the Scots have secured a competitive away win over a higher-ranked nation since Gordon Strachan’s side beat Croatia in a meaningless qualifier in June 2013.
The Vienna result has helped revive the wilting spirits of fans following an underwhelming Euro 2020 display which saw the Scots score just one goal.
They only scored twice against Denmark, Moldova and Austria in the recent series of games but they were both priceless and earned a total of six points to put Scotland back into second place in Group F and in firm control of their own destiny.
Clarke applauded the players for coming through such a hectic period and being able to save their best performance for last. The manager has described the preparations for this international window as the “most disruptive” he had ever known.
Clarke was only able to pick from 16 outfield players in Denmark last week due to injury and Covid-related issues. He suffered the loss of Nathan Patterson, Ryan Fraser and Kenny McLean on the eve of the trip to Vienna, prompting him to criticise the intense international schedule that puts players’ fitness in jeopardy.
“It was so difficult," he said. "It was tough for myself, (Head of High Performance) Graeme Jones, the doctors, the physios, and the players.
“They’re looking at people dropping out, our attempts to call people up, and it wasn’t happening. We had to give them a little bit of support and a little bit of help.
"But we dug in.
“If you’d have said we’d get six points from this week I think most people would have taken that. So it’s been a good, decent week. And credit to the players for that.”
Clarke stressed that there was still much to do in the remaining four games of the group. If Scotland do seal second spot they will then still have to win two one-off play-off games, a semi-final and a final, to take their place at next winter's finals in Qatar.
“The next part of the process is not going to happen just like that,” said Clarke, while snapping his fingers.
“Success doesn’t come that way. We’re trying to qualify for a World Cup and the way it’s set up, it’s difficult. It’s really difficult for us to qualify for a World Cup.
“But we look to keep improving. You can’t tell me this group of players is not better than when I first took the job. They’re a better group of players, it’s a hungrier group of players. They want to do well for their country and they want to be successful.”
The players will be backed by a capacity crowd when familiar foes Israel, currently third in Group F, visit Hampden Park on October 9.
Match tickets have already sold out on the SFA website meaning there will be a 50,000 capacity crowd for Scotland's seventh clash with Israel in just three years.
Get a year of unlimited access to all The Scotsman's sport coverage without the need for a full subscription. Expert analysis of the biggest games, exclusive interviews, live blogs, transfer news and 70 per cent fewer ads on Scotsman.com - all for less than £1 a week. Subscribe to us today
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.