Steve Clarke's crowning night as Scotland boss, Spain made to look ordinary, England and Euro 2024 beware
It was a night Scotland took a huge step towards Euro 2024. It was a night for the national game. It was a night for the often long-suffering Tartan Army. It was a night for Scott McTominay and his team-mates. Perhaps, most of all, it was a night for Steve Clarke. For the 59-year-old, since starting in front of 31,277 fans against Cyprus in 2019, there have been doubts amongst some within Scotland. Even when you consider that within 18 months he and the whole country had that night in Belgrade to qualify for Euro 2020. The tournament itself was ultimately a failure but Scotland displayed their potential in a draw at Wembley against England.
Israel and that captivating and crazy win at Hampden Park would follow. Then the team’s most complete performance under Clarke arrived in a dominant win over Denmark. Back-to-back tournaments were on the horizon. Then the war in Ukraine and then June 2022. Ukraine at Hampden then Ireland in Dublin. The only two competitive defeats in 15 outings.
Some eyebrows were raised on the eve of the qualifying campaign when his contract was extended to take him until the end of the 2026 World Cup. Those eyebrows can now be put back in their natural habitat. Defeating Spain is Clarke’s crowning moment. The latest staging post in the continued progression under his watch.
This was no smash and grab. This was a measured performance. Calculated and calm in the right moments, fiery and frenetic when it mattered. While Clarke had a straightforward choice in terms of the man to lead the line, Lyndon Dykes replacing Che Adams, there were more big calls to make. Switch to a back four? No. Correct. Armstrong or Christie? The latter. Correct. McTominay or Jack? The former. It couldn't be more correct.
Scotland had to weather a first-half storm and were thankful for wayward finishing and the crossbar but they were already ahead. They had to spend large periods without the ball, seeing less than 30 per cent of possession. But as the game progressed this Spain team were not finding their way through a the finest of Scottish rock, led by the irreplaceable Kieran Tierney, who demonstrated the determination when Scotland did have the ball, making Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal look like a car without petrol as he sped away to set up Scott McTominay's second on the night and fourth in two games.
As expected Hampden played its part. Partisan and intimidating, focusing on the hapless Pedro Porro, supportive and passionate. It was loud and it was proud. But the final word is for Clarke.
“I still think we’re working towards it,” he said about competing with the top nations ahead of the game. “Whether we’ve got a way to go, I don’t know. We’ll find out a bit better when we’re involved in that Nations League section. We’ll find out tomorrow night and when we play Spain away. We’ll find out when we play England later this year.”
Scotland found out. Norway, Georgia, England, Euro 2024 beware.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.