Victory against the Faroe Islands tonight, and then three further points in Moldova next month, and Scotland will be assured a spot in the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
In defeating Israel 3-2 on Saturday at a euphoric Hampden thanks to a stoppage-time goal from Scott McTominay, Scotland built on September’s 1-0 wins away at Austria and at home to Moldova. They touched down yesterday in the North Atlantic archipelago in buoyant mood, imbued by confidence and the support of a nation growing increasingly in love with their football team again.
The Tórsvøllur stadium in the Gundadalur district of Torshavn is certainly more hospitable than Svangaskarð, the small clifftop pitch in Toftir where Scotland so infamously slipped up against the Faroes in 2002. Nevertheless, the 5,000 seater arena will feel very different to the giddy scenes witnessed in Glasgow, exposed to the elements and home to a plastic pitch. While Faroese football is improving, they are cut adrift in fifth place on Group F with three matches remaining. Three thousands souls turned up for the Austria defeat on Friday. They recently defeated Moldova at home but they are still a limited bunch in the environment of international football.
Nevertheless, Håkan Ericson’s merry band will pose a different kind of problem for Scotland. They are organised, resolute, physical and can go route one, a totally different type of opponent to Israel. However, Clarke has his players ready for this test, creating a group that treat every opponent equally. Complacency, it seems, won’t be a problem.
What to expect from the Faroes
"The Faroes have their own way of playing,” explained Clarke. “They have good physicality. The goalkeeper [Teitur Gestsson] has a very long kick. I’m not saying they always play direct but they have the option to be long and direct and be straight at your back four or back five. So there are different problems to the ones that Israel gave us the other night.
"They are well organised, good physically, some great set-play delivery with one fantastic taker, long throws into the box and good organisation. There’s a raucous home support who also get right behind their team.
"That’s something we have touched on in training and we will touch on again in the meetings. And make sure that we are ready for a tough game. Everyone looks at the Hampden game, and 4-0 looks like a really comfortable night but it was 1-0 for a long time. It wasn’t a comfortable night. Once we got to 2-0, we managed to go on and get the third and the fourth but that really just put a little gloss on the scoreline. It was a tighter game than 4-0.
“I look at this group and leading into the Nations league playoffs, we went eight games unbeaten. So that tells me that this group of players understand what they have to do, how they have to arrive in certain games, what state of mind they have to be in to get the next result and the next result. Hopefully we can show that against the Faroes. It’s a night we have handle and handle well to come out out with the three points that we want.”
Clarke is not fazed about playing on a plastic pitch – “I haven’t given it any thought, to be honest” – but does have a decision to make when it comes to configuring his attack. Che Adams did not travel, sent back to his club to Southampton due to injury, and the manager must choose whether to go with two out-and-out strikers with Hibs’ Kevin Nisbet partnering Lyndon Dykes, or going with an attack-minded midfielder such as Ryan Fraser or Ryan Christie to support Dykes.
Decisions to be made
Never rushed, Clarke has yet to make up his mind. “With the short turnaround, I always like to give as long as I can,” he said. “Going into the Israel game after a five-game camp, I already knew what the team was going to be and the lads knew.
“This time there’s some position that I am looking at and I have to get the balance right as it was a big physical effort on Saturday night.
“I looked at the stats and some of them are amazing, especially from the second-half performance.
“So I have to get balance right between maybe making two or three changes to freshen the team without losing that real spark we had it in the second half.”
Grant Hanley returns from suspension and, given his form for Scotland of late, could displace Jack Hendry in the middle of the back three. “Grant is another option in the middle of defence,” said Clarke. “The big man has been terrific for me since he came back into the fold. One of our most consistent performers.
The final word for KT
The manager finished, however, with glowing praise for one of his other defenders.
“I have to mention Kieran Tierney as well,” Clarke noted of the Arsenal wing-back who has filled in as a left-sided centre-half. “Playing in that back three he’s been excellent for us. You see the other night the dynamic with him and Andy Robertson.
“Other players in the team get good press. John McGinn. The captain. Dykesy. For good and bad reasons the other night. Everyone wants to talk about a striker.
“Kieran has gone in there, he plays out of position for us, but he does it fantastically well.
“I think sometimes you have to flag up players like that as being really important. His maturity and his capacity to play slightly out of position and still do a fantastic job for the country is absolutely different class."
Clarke, and the rest of the nation, will hope the positive tones continue come just after 9.30pm tonight.