Steve Clarke has his say on Erling Haaland mania and gives Scotland squad update ahead of Norway clash

Scotland manager Steve Clarke stressed the need to focus on “Norway the team” rather than become obsessed with trying to stop Erling Haaland.

Haaland goes into Saturday’s Euro 2024 qualifier in Oslo on the back of a 52-goal, treble-winning season with Manchester City and is set to make his first international appearance since September in front of an expectant crowd at the Ullevaal Stadium. Much of the build-up to the game has been dominated by talk of the 22-year-old striker’s threat, but Clarke and defender Liam Cooper were careful not to overlook the rest of the Norway team – or give them any cause to feel under-appreciated.

Asked about trying stop Haaland, Clarke said: “As we always do, we concentrate on ourselves. We prepare properly for the game, we respect our opponents. We play Norway the team, and hopefully Scotland the team are a little bit better on the night.”

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Leeds defender Cooper provided a similar response, saying: “With Erling, his goals and achievements speak for themselves. He has had an unbelievable season at club level, but I don’t like to disrespect the Norway team, they have a lot of good players and to put all our focus on one player, I think that would be wrong of us. We obviously know what Erling brings, he is an unbelievable player and unbelievable goalscorer, but we have to pay a lot of respect to the rest of the team as well. Obviously (Martin) Odegaard is a very good player, he has also been in a title challenge this year. They have got amazing players. We have to keep Erling and Odegaard in check, but there’s a lot of other players to worry about as well.”

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JUNE 16: Scotland Manager Steve Clarke during a Scotland training session at Lesser Hampden, on June 16, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JUNE 16: Scotland Manager Steve Clarke during a Scotland training session at Lesser Hampden, on June 16, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JUNE 16: Scotland Manager Steve Clarke during a Scotland training session at Lesser Hampden, on June 16, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Cooper played as Haaland netted twice at Elland Road earlier this season and, asked what made the forward such a difficult opponent, the 31-year-old said: “For one, he doesn’t need many chances. So you can almost guarantee if he does get a chance it will go away. He is strong, he is powerful and he is always on your shoulder, always looking to get in behind. Obviously if we are not on top of our game and we are not cautious of that, he can damage us and he can hurt us. But I don’t want to disrespect the rest of the team. We have got to look after the whole of the Norway team and that’s the way it will be. We are going to need a big performance, especially a defensive performance. Hopefully we can get that, the boys are dialled in, and get a positive result.”

Scotland go into the game on the back of beating Group A favourites Spain 2-0 at Hampden in March to make it a perfect start to the campaign, while Norway sit on one point from their two matches. Asked if his Scotland side now expect to win these types of games, Clarke said: “I think we should come with confidence. Obviously we had a good March and we have had a good run of wins in competitive fixtures. But we know we are coming to a difficult place. We always respect our opponents, we try and play as well as we can, and hopefully we can add to the points tally. It’s a different challenge, it’s an away game. Norway are a different team from Spain, they play a different way. They put you under a little bit more pressure maybe. Spain will pass the ball and pass the ball and try to win the game with possession. Norway can play with the ball because they have good ball players, but they can also be quite direct as well.”

Clarke reported a healthy squad following a Spanish training camp and this week’s work at Lesser Hampden. “Full squad’s here, 25 players have travelled,” he added. “I have got a big decision, I have got to leave two out of the 23, so that’s my next job.”

Former Celtic winger echoed Scotland’s sentiments about Haaland, saying he does not expect them to focus too much on Norway’s prolific striker and neglect their responsibility to stopping the likes of him and Martin Odegaard.

“I’m sure Scotland will not make that mistake, they will focus on other players as well,” Elyounoussi said ahead of Saturday’s Euro 2024 qualifier in Oslo. “Yes, he has scored a lot of goals and has the attention around him. I thought it was going to be like that, we would maybe have more space but it hasn’t been like that so far. He takes attention obviously and no matter what he always creates chances for himself, but I don’t think it makes any difference for the other boys, we are always giving 100 per cent no matter what.”

Elyounoussi has also shared a dressing room with several players in the Scotland squad including Southampton team-mate Stuart Armstrong. Another Saints player, Che Adams, is missing through injury. The wide player will also be reunited with Callum McGregor and he is not surprised to see the midfielder go from strength to strength since succeeding Scott Brown as Celtic captain.

“Cal is a leader,” said Elyounoussi, who spent the best part of two seasons on loan at Celtic Park. “I remember him as a good team-mate, a good guy. I really got along with him and we had a nice connection on the left side with him and Greg Taylor. He has been important for the club after Broony left and he has also been important for the national team as well, that’s why he plays so many games. I am looking forward to seeing him again and some of the other boys as well.”