Scotland have one missing jigsaw piece ahead of Euro 2024 and Newcastle recruit could provide the answer
Harvey Barnes, Anthony Gordon, Elliot Anderson and Tino Livramento. It’s a strange coincidence that those reckoned to be on Scotland’s 'transfer' wish-list for Euro 2024 are all Newcastle United players.
Never mind native or adopted Geordies, it's a Georgian who has really underlined what Steve Clarke is missing as the countdown to next summer’s finals begins. Sadly, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia does not have a grandparent who hails from Dunoon or anywhere else in Scotland.
In any case, aged just 22, he already has 27 caps for Georgia. He lit up Tbilisi, the city of his birth, with another stellar display in the 2-2 draw with Scotland. It was proof for anyone who still needed it that the Napoli winger is already one of Europe’s premier talents.
What Scotland wouldn't give to bundle him on the plane to Germany next summer. He is exactly what Clarke’s team is missing, as was again demonstrated in this latest outing. Although Scotland found a way to secure a more than decent result, as tends to happen under Clarke these days, there was still the glaring absence of a player with real X-factor.
Kvaratskhelia showed what he is - a higher quality Harvey Barnes. The Newcastle forward might be a similar sort of player in that he likes to come in off the left, but he lacks the Georgian maestro's explosiveness. In truth, there are few, if any, players in Europe who play the role as well as Kvaratskhelia.
He is one of a kind, with talent and attitude, judging by some of his post-match comments, to burn. However, we should not be blinded by some of Georgia’s antics. They are a coming side who might yet qualify for Euro 2024. They are not minnows. Scotland did not need to just turn up to beat them, particularly given past experiences in Tbilisi and the fact the Scots were missing almost half a team.
The injured quintet included Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, two players who would stand a chance of getting into the very best international sides. However, there's a limit to how much they can impact a game from left-back or left-wing-back, or, in Tierney's case with Scotland, left centre-half. This is the regular lament heard by Tartan Army fans: 'Why do Scotland's best players have to be two left-backs?!'
Kvaratskhelia had no defensive duties to concern himself with. He was causing problems from the opening minutes when he began running with purpose at Ryan Porteous. It was the sign of a long night ahead.
But Scotland survived. Scott McTominay did what he does while Lawrence Shankland surely earned himself a place in the squad for Euro 2024 with a reminder of what he can do given the slenderest of opportunity.
It could barely be described as a half-chance when Stuart Armstrong swung a cross into the box three minutes into time added on. It's hard to imagine Che Adams, fine striker though he is, scoring this kind of goal. Lyndon Dykes, who Shankland replaced, may well have got his head to the ball - he was unlucky with two earlier chances. As for Jacob Brown, Clarke's other striker option, who knows?
The manager clearly had more faith in Shankland sniffing out a chance, rightly so. Now 28, he has been doing this for longer than Brown, who has still to score for Scotland. The Luton Town striker will feel he is due an opportunity against Norway tomorrow night because time is running out for him to make his mark. Equally, Shankland might expect only his second international start given his impact in such a short space of time on Thursday.
Clarke's selection against Norway will be fascinating in what is Scotland's last competitive outing before their opening group game at Euro 2024. How much more experimental can he go against a side unbeaten in their last three Hampden visits stretching back to 1978?
Brown, Liam Cooper, Ryan Jack, Josh Doig and Jack Hendry did not feature in Tbilisi.
It’s likely Hendry will come back into the side at centre-half. Clarke may opt to give Doig a run-out at left wing back, on the assumption the manager reverts to three at the back. Lewis Ferguson, too, will surely be given a long awaited return to the starting side.
Goalkeeper is another interesting area. Zander Clark received what appeared to be some very harsh criticism after conceding twice inside the Boris Paichadze stadium on his competitive debut. While no keeper wishes to be beaten at his near post, the ball flashed by him off Karatskhelia's toes for the first goal. As for the second, the fact he was unsighted was the least of his problems given the power in the shot as it skidded across the turf.
Clark sounded perplexed afterwards when asked whether he felt he might have done better with either or both goals, replying that he will look at them again later, as he always does after games.
The Hearts 'keeper certainly did not do enough wrong to warrant being dropped against Norway, although Clarke may well feel he needs to give Liam Kelly a competitive game as well. That might even be the sensible decision on a night when there is little riding on the outcome. All right, so Scotland can secure a Pot Two berth ahead of the draw in a fortnight’s time if they beat Norway by two goals – or win 4-3.
Otherwise, it’s Pot Three – which might not be the worst place to be. As it stands, it would mean avoiding the Netherlands, Ukraine, Denmark, Serbia and Czech Republic in Germany – at the group phase at least. Whether Scotland can make that great leap forward and qualify beyond this stage remains to be seen. In the absence of someone like Kvaradona, as Kvaratskhelia is known on the streets of Naples, the recruitment of Barnes or Gordon, someone else with the ability to make things happen, would surely improve the chances of making history.
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