Scotland reaction: Clarke takes aim at VAR, queries referee choice and has say on team's goal threat

What the manager had to say after Scotland’s devastating defeat by Hungary

The clock was ticking towards midnight when Steve Clarke eventually made his way to the podium in the press conference room at the Stuttgart Arena. The inquest was about to start. It may continue for some time. 

Not last night, however. He post-match briefing lasted just five minutes and four seconds. The Scotland manager was “disappointed and sad, the same as everyone else who is Scottish I’d imagine” after the 1-0 defeat from Hungary that made it 12 first round exits from 12 major finals stretching back to 1954.

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He was also angry. He was angry that what seemed like very legitimate appeals for a penalty when substitute Stuart Armstrong was bundled over were waved away by the Argentinian referee and not even looked at by the VAR team. Clarke described it as the defining moment of the game, and perhaps Scotland’s championships. Hungary substitute Kevin Csoboth drilled home the 100th minute shortly afterwards. 

Clarke was clearly bemused why a referee from South America was officiating at the Euros in the first place although Facunda Tello is not the first Argentinian to do so. Fernando Rapallini officiated at Euro 2020. The job share is part of an agreement between UEFA and South American counterpart CONMEBOL. Clarke is not a fan of the arrangement. 

Steve Clarke consoles Scott McTominay after the defeat by Hungary.Steve Clarke consoles Scott McTominay after the defeat by Hungary.
Steve Clarke consoles Scott McTominay after the defeat by Hungary. | Getty Images

“In a European competition it might have been better to have a European referee,” said Clarke. “But we had European VAR. Maybe the referee didn’t see the challenge clearly on the pitch but what’s the purpose of VAR if they’re not going to come in on something like that. It’s a penalty.

“It’s 100 per cent a penalty. Somebody somewhere has to explain to me why that’s not a penalty. It’s 100 per cent and in a one-goal gave, had we got that penalty, it could have  been a different night. I’ve got other words but I’m not going to use them.”

Goals were always likely to prove Scotland’s downfall and so it has proved. Just two goals in three games, one of which was an own goal and the other a deflection off an opposition player. There was just one shot at goal - curled past the upright, from Che Adams - against Hungary. 

Were goals, or at least the limited number of players who looked capable of providing them, always a concern for him? 

“Not for us,” Clarke said. “I think it’s very difficult to sit here and analyse and I understand why you are asking the question. But sometimes after a defeat like that you need a bit of time to digest everything and work out how the game went and why it went that way.

“We had a lot of the ball and we probably didn’t create enough. But we did create enough chances before the goal - that’s clear. Is that why we went out of the tournament? Well, we scored two goals this time and we only scored one the last time.

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“But it’s something for me to go away and think about and speak to my coaches, to try to work on something going into the future as to how we can score more goals at certain times in games.”

Clarke could not fault the effort of his players. Few could have any complaints on that score. In the final analysis, they were just not quite good enough. The group final placings have fallen as the seedings suggested they should. 

“We gave it everything and I don’t think you could fault the effort,” said Clarke. 

“It was a very tough game against a good opponent. It was very close and it was always going to be decided by the first goal. You could tell that after the first half an hour.

“Unfortunately for us, when we opened up forwards the end of the game to try and chase the win that we felt we needed to get to the next stage, we got caught on the counter to lose 1-0. But I don’t think there was anything between the two teams.”

Clarke was not about to start blaming injuries, though they clearly compromised Scotland’s chances, including in this final, critical game when they were denied Kieran Tierney.

“I never speak about injuries,” he said. “It is my default. Maybe when we go away, maybe when we sit down over a cup of coffee in three or four weeks’ time or whenever it is, maybe then we can discuss the impact of the people who weren’t here. I would much rather just be sad here with people who are here, it is more important to me at this moment in time.”

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