The Herald on Sunday
THE GOALS WILL COME
Clarke unfazed by inability to score and backs his strikers to come good
STEVE CLARKE last night expressed confidence that Scotland can score against Croatia on Tuesday night and secure a place in the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time with a victory despite failing to net in their opening two Euro 2020 matches.
The national team, who were beaten 2-0 by the Czech Republic in their opening Group D game at Hampden on Monday afternoon, resurrected their hopes of reaching the last 16 with a 0-0 draw against England at Wembley on Friday evening.
However, Clarke’s men have still not been on target – and they need to beat the Russia 2018 finalists in their next outing to stand any chance of progressing as either the second or third-place team in their section.
The former Kilmarnock manager, though, is unconcerned by his charges’ inability to score and is certain that his strikers Che Adams, Lyndon Dykes and Kevin Nisbet can supply the cutting edge in the final third they require to secure all three points.
He expects Scotland, who have created several excellent scoring opportunities in both of their outings at Euro 2020, will get good service in to their forwards.
“Look at the key chances in the game last night,” he said. “Stephen O’Donnell hit his shot very well. It was probably save of the match from [Jordan] Pickford down to his right.
“You need that ball to spin up straight on to Che’s head. Then he’s nodding it into an empty goal. But it was just a little bit too high. From their point of view a great save, from our point of view a bit unlucky it didn’t fall for Che to nod in.
“Dykes’ shot [the forward had a volley headed off the line by Reece James in the second half]? I am not sure if it was going in. But six inches inside the post I don’t think the fullback gets round to cover it and that’s a goal.
“Then when Dykes had the shot and it falls between Che and [Tyrone] Mings in the box, if it’s your night and time to score then that ball falls perfectly for Che to shoot first time into the back of net. It didn’t. He had to take half a step back and by that time the chance is gone at this level.
All those little things are important.
“We created a lot of chances against the Czech Republic and enough chances against England to get a goal and I am sure if we create enough against the Croatians on Tuesday night then we can score the goals that we need.”
Clarke was delighted with the Scotland display against England and the result, but he knows that his men will have a reproduce their display at Wembley in the encounter with Croatia, who can field Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, if they want to triumph and go through.
“Every game is different,” he said. “It might pan out to be totally different game. Croatia have good attributes, different attributes to England. They are a good team who move the ball well. We will have to defend well again and find a way to play through midfield.
“They have two really top players in midfield in Kovacic and Modric, we need to deal with that. If we get everybody on the pitch that we want to get on the pitch and they all produce eight out of 10 performances, then you would hope that would be good enough to get us the win that we need to get out of the group stages.”
Against England, Clarke welcomed back Kieran Tierney after injury, moved Scott McTominay from midfield into defence, brought in Billy Gilmour and Callum McGregor in the centre of the park and started with Adams up front. The manager’s changes were vindicated. Every one of the players he brought in was outstanding.
All our focus is trying to make sure we can create a little bit more history for this country
“It was a good performance and a vital point because we had to get something from the game to give ourselves a chance going into Tuesday night’s game so really pleased with that,” he said.
“The balance was good. Getting Kieran into the back three helps us as well because he gives us a different dimension on the left-hand side driving out. If you play two footballers in midfield, then you have to use them, there’s no point in bypassing them. Thankfully, it worked out for us.
“The plan was to defend well because you are playing against one of the top seeds in the tournament. We had to try and limit their chances, but when we had it, it was very important that we made them feel that we were a threat and we managed to do that, so that was good.”
Clarke added: “A lot of the passages of play when we needed a breather, rather than kicking the ball out and having a quick intake of breath, we managed to recover with the ball, passing it well, it’s a vital part of the game in top-level international football. If we want to be competitive against these top-level teams, then it’s what we need to learn to do.
“But, to reiterate, it was to get something out of the game to give ourselves a chance going into the game on Tuesday. All our focus is now on that and trying to make sure we can create a little bit more history for the country.”
The 57-year-old celebrated on the pitch with his players after the final whistle at Wembley and revealed that he was delighted when he spotted his young grandson in amongst the Scotland supporters.
“It was important that we acknowledged the fans,” he said. “They came down and made a great noise in the stadium from the first minute to the last.
“We know the Tartan Army like that and we are grateful for their support.
“When I went over towards the fans I was actually looking for my grandson and I managed to see him in the crowd. That’s who I was waving at and it was great to see him there.”
The Clarke family, and the country as a whole, will have further reason to rejoice if Scotland can overcome Croatia on Tuesday evening and book their place in the last 16 of Euro 2020.