Steve Clarke insists Scotland are capable of gaining a result when they face the No. 1 ranked team in the world tomorrow night in Brussels.
The manager spent yesterday assessing his players following the last gasp win over Cyprus at Hampden in Clarke’s first match in charge. Clarke confirmed there will be changes against Belgium, with Saturday night's match winner Oliver Burke set to start up front.
Having lost their opener so comprehensively in Kazakhstan, Scotland cannot afford to treat any of their remaining seven Group I matches as ‘free hits’. Clarke knows his side need to claw back ground. Retrieving something from the King Baudouin stadium is one way of starting to address the damage sustained by March’s 3-0 defeat in Nursultan under previous manager Alex McLeish.
“There are no free games,” said Clarke. “We have to go there with belief we can get something. We have to play to our maximum and maybe hope Belgium are a little less than 100 per cent. If that happens we can get something from the game. That’s how I have approached every single game in my career and that’s how I will approach this one.”
Clarke’s career as a player, coach and manager to date has been played out at a high level but the challenge facing him and his team tomorrow night is special as well as demanding.
Roberto Martinez’s side are currently ranked at No 1 in the world. Their skipper, Eden Hazard, will be unveiled as a Real Madrid player later this week after signing from Chelsea in a deal reported to be worth up to £130 million.
Even when Scotland defeated France in Paris in 2007, the hosts were ranked No 4 in the world. A win in Brussels would eclipse that achievement while a draw would also rank as one of Scotland’s finest results in recent times. Clarke’s side at least go into the game on a high after beating Cyprus 2-1 on Saturday courtesy of substitute Oliver Burke’s 89th minute winner.
“It is a different challenge,” acknowledged Clarke. “We will need different attributes over there. But more than anything we will need the personality and desire the players showed tonight to get a result. If we can go over there and play to our maximum I am sure we can get something from the game.”
Kenny McLean was a stand-out success in the holding midfield position and could be asked to reprise this role again tomorrow. Scott McTominay, meanwhile, impressed when coming on for a cameo appearance after replacing John McGinn. The Manchester United midfielder's physicality could be vital against the Belgians.
“Obviously some of the players have played a lot of games this season, others not to many,” said Clarke. “Some of the players like Kenny McLean, you could see tonight he was a little fresher than the rest because Kenny’s season stopped in the first week in May. I will need to assess the squad and see how they are physically. There will need to be I imagine one or two tactical switches as well and hopefully we can go to Belgium and cause them a few problems.”
Scotland enjoyed a lot of joy down their left-hand side on Saturday with Champions League winner Andy Robertson, who scored his side’s opener with an explosive finish from 20 yards, teaming up well with Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser, who has been linked with a move to Arsenal this summer.
“The combination on the left-hand side of the pitch was really good for us,” said Clarke. “We have to work a little bit harder on the right to try and get the same combinations, but that is what we will do. There were a lot of good things on Saturday night, but the left side of the pitch was a big plus.”