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Steve Clarke urges Scotland to show strides they have made by reaching World Cup qualifying play-offs

Steve Clarke.
Steve Clarke.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke says securing a World Cup qualifying play-off spot against Moldova would underline the strides made over the past 12 months.

A victory in Chisinau on Friday night would guarantee second spot in Group F, and keep the Scots firmly on track to reach next year’s finals in Qatar.

Should they finish the job off against a Moldovan side ranked 181st in the world, the Scots will still have Monday’s final group fixture at home to Denmark to spare.

Clarke has been thrilled by the resolve shown by his players to put themselves in such a strong position, but has called for one final push.

He said: “I have spoken a lot over the last 12 months about the progression of the team, and the way we are improving.

“I think I maybe recognised that a bit earlier than some other people.

“We have shown an ability to win matches we maybe would have drawn in the past.

“Matches we may have lost in the past we have turned into draws.

“We have had a much better overall campaign through the World Cup. We got criticised early in the campaign for dropping some points, but we found a way to make that up later in the group.

“That’s what we have to do. We have to jump from being a third-seeded team to get above the second-seeded team, and hopefully secure the play-off spot.

“But we are not getting ahead of ourselves.

“We have put ourselves in a really good position, but we haven’t finished the job yet.

“We need to stay focused and humble, treat Moldova and Denmark with equal respect and make sure we come out of the weekend with the required amount of points we need to progress to the play-offs.”

Increasing experience is showing in squad

Scotland ended a 23-year wait to appear at a major tournament when Clarke guided them to last summer’s European Championships.

Steve Clarke during Euro 2020.

Although they were unable to progress through the group stage, Clarke feels the experience gained by his squad has been a driving factor in the Scots’ progress.

He added: “The team has improved – the mentality, the understanding of what we have to do to win matches at this level.

“I always said that would improve slowly and gradually with the number of caps players picked up.

“We have players who are more experienced at this level. When you start to get results against some of the better teams, you start to believe in yourself a bit more.

“That belief can turn a draw into a win, which is probably what happened in the two games last month.”

Clarke will be forced to rotate the side which claimed victories over Israel and Faroe Islands last month, after Scott McTominay was ruled out with a throat virus.

Scotland midfielder Scott McTominay.
Scotland midfielder Scott McTominay.

Scotland were already without the suspended Lyndon Dykes and Ryan Christie, along with injured defender Grant Hanley.

Clarke has faith in the options at his disposal, adding: “Unfortunately Scott McTominay has picked up a bit of a throat virus, so we have sent him home for a couple of days to rest and recuperate. Hopefully he can join us again at the weekend.

“I looked at the squad, and you can think about calling someone up. But we have good cover at centre-back and in midfield.

“It’s disappointing to lose Scott, but it’s going to be a big chance for someone else to play in the team.

“Anybody I pick for the squad is a player I feel can contribute – whether it’s from the start or the bench.

“It’s disappointing to lose Lyndon because he was on a good scoring run for us, but what a great chance for someone else to be the guy that catches the headlines.”

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