'We need to learn to deal with those situations better': Celtic midfielder offers candid assessment of how to deal with key Scotland matches

The to-ing and fro-ing in the struggle for supremacy between Scotland and Ukraine can seem dizzying. Not to Celtic captain Callum McGregor, though.

Andriy Yarmolenko of Ukraine and Callum McGregor of Scotland tussle for possession during Wednesday's match at Hampden.
Andriy Yarmolenko of Ukraine and Callum McGregor of Scotland tussle for possession during Wednesday's match at Hampden.

The pair will face-off in Krakow on Tuesday with more than just top spot in their Nations League section on the line, even if that in itself is more than enough when whoever carries the day in Poland will earn the glittering prizes of a guaranteed play-off place for Euro 2024 and promotion to the League A level in the next edition of the competition. Yet, McGregor recognises that the recent history between Steve Clarke’s men and a nation pursuing football ambitions as their country is ravaged by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s war ensures the encounter is imbued by other subtexts.

It was only on Wednesday that Scotland were considered to have exacted a degree of revenge over Ukraine for the 3-1 World Cup play-off semi-final elimination at their hands on Glasgow’s south side in June. The Hampden hosts did so emphatically with a 3-0 thumping that will have Oleksandr Petrakov’s men smarting when they countries meet for a third time in four months at the Cracovia Stadium, The shift of focus as a result means that it is the Ukrainians who now will be seeking to exact a form of retribution a week down the line from being on the wrong end of this.

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"That's how football works,” said McGregor. “You need to stay calm, you need to stay level-headed. It was a good result and performance but that's it finished. We need to reset and go again on Tuesday. We want to finish this group positively and if we can qualify from this group then that would be excellent but that has to be the aim. It'll be difficult going away from home. [But] as long as the intent is there to go and win the game, and the performance is similar to Wednesday then there's no reason why we can't win.”

The Ukraine players were required to take the pitch at Scotland’s national stadium in midweek shortly after news filtered through that Russia had implemented a partial mobilisation of troops; what effectively amounted to introducing a limited form of national service. The move indicated they are prepared to throw a frightening level of military might into ensuring their ill-conceived invasion – in recent weeks extensively repelled in courageous fashion – does not end in military disaster. And with that the fearful prospect of bloodshed, devastation and war crimes being inflicted on Ukraine and its people for years to come. It is heroic for Petrakov’s player to be able to retain their professional focus during these horrendous times. Yet, however callous it may appear, so must those in Scotland colours. As they perhaps, and understandably, struggled to do in the World Cup play-off when Ukraine were returning to the international domain fr the first time since the Russia invasion began in February.

"It was a high-pressure game against Ukraine in the summer with the narrative around it, everyone was hyping the game up,” said the Celtic midfielder. “For us as a squad, we need to learn to deal with those situations better. In terms of high pressure games, play-offs, semi-finals, there is a lot on the line so that's something we need to learn to deal with as a group. When we had the chance on Wednesday to try and level the score a bit, there was probably more emphasis on the tactical side of the game and the football and actually going and playing the game properly. We will learn that as a group and that's how you deal with things. When you get disappointment you have to go again and be strong.”