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Scotland manager Steve Clarke expects plenty ‘twists and turns’ in World Cup qualifying campaign

Steve Clarke.
Steve Clarke.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke reckons the bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup could go to the wire irrespective of tomorrow’s result against Israel.

The Scots got their Group F campaign off the mark with a 2-2 draw at home to Austria on Thursday, in a match in which they twice came from behind to secure a point.

Although Scotland avoided a costly defeat, the failure to get off to a winning start accentuates the need for three points in Tel Aviv tomorrow.

Israel are looking to register their first points of the section after starting with a 2-0 loss at home to Denmark, however, Clarke expects points to be shared throughout the campaign.

Clarke said: “It is not about eliminating Israel. I know the clamour is to get the points, but the key for us is to try and build on the performance against a really good Austria side.

“It got us a point, we wanted three. Now if we can go to Israel and get three points that would be a good return after two tough games.

“I think I said at the start when the group was drawn, I can see teams dropping points against each other all the way through this.

“I don’t see a Belgium for example taking thirty points or a Russia, who I think took 24 points – so 54 points went to the top two seeds last time. I don’t see that happening now.

“I think it will be a competitive group all the way through with a lot of twists and turns.

“That’s the nature of the qualification games. You have three games in a week. It can make or break you. Hopefully it is going to make us.”

Grant Hanley nods home Scotland’s first equaliser against Austria.

Clarke drafted in defenders Grant Hanley and Jack Hendry, who were both making their first national team appearances since 2018, with Norwich City defender Hanley netting Scotland’s first equaliser against the Austrians.

Having reshuffled the backline, Clarke was disappointed with the two goals conceded against an Austrian side ranked 23rd in the world – 25 places above his side.

Clarke added: “Obviously we had a couple of changes at the back. I think we can improve at the back. Obviously conceding two goals, I thought both of them were preventable.

“It was a good save from David Marshall and we did not react quick enough to the second ball. And we allowed the cross to come in too easily for the second goal – but I have to say it was a great header from the lad.

“I think he’s one of the top scorers in the Bundesliga this year and he’s a decent striker. It was a great header, but the reaction from the players to come back makes it a good point.

“I think it was probably more difficult for Jack, because he has had fewer caps. Grant Hanley came in and this was his 30th cap for Scotland, so for Grant to come back in was a lot easier.”

Scott McTominay tussles with Austria’s Xaver Schlager.

The incoming defenders allowed Scott McTominay to push forward to central midfield to cover for Ryan Jack, who missed out with a calf injury.

Clarke was pleased with the McTominay’s performance in a position in which he has excelled for Manchester United this season.

He added: “It was a good change. I thought Scott was really good in the game.

“He is a top midfield player. He plays week in, week out for Man United in the Premier League, which is a great level, so he showed his qualities.”

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