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Scotland boss Steve Clarke hopes to face Ukraine in June but warns of fixture congestion in summer window

Scotland manager Steve Clarke
Scotland manager Steve Clarke

Scotland boss Steve Clarke hopes to face Ukraine in June, although he raised concerns of playing up to six games in one international window.

The two sides were due to meet in a World Cup qualifying play-off this month, which has been pushed back to June because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Scotland already have four Uefa Nations League games in June, where Ukraine are also due to be their opponents, and Clarke revealed the prevailing thinking seems to be to try fit the semi-final and a potential final against Wales and Austria alongside them.

There could be the potential of pushing a game back into September, when Scotland are due to play their final two Nations League fixtures.

Clarke, who named his squad for friendlies against Poland (March 24) and the loser of the Wales-Austria game (March 29) yesterday, hopes the Ukraine game will go ahead, as it would mean the situation in the country had improved.

But he warned of the demands put on players of playing six international games on the back of a demanding season.

“We hope and pray that we are playing Ukraine in the semi-final play-off,” said Clarke. “What happens with the rest of the month, I don’t know is the honest answer.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke
Scotland manager Steve Clarke

“All the big wigs are still in discussions and trying to find a solution. There’s fixture congestion that will arise from this situation.

“At the moment I’m desperate not to be in a position where we we might have to play six games in June because I think that would be too much for the players on the back of a long hard season.

“At the moment that seems to be the thinking – that we might need to squeeze six games into a June window which is not correct in terms of player welfare. Just the timing of it, on the back of a long hard season; even a four game window was going to be a little bit unusual in the Nations League.

“To try and squeeze in a playoff semi-final and hopefully a final would take it to six games which is too much. I think those are the discussions they are having at this moment in time.

“You’ve got to put it all into context in terms of what Ukraine are suffering at this moment. These are more sporting matters. Ukraine could also be in a position where they might have to play six matches and unfortunately we’d be knocked out.

“I think for everyone, the people who organise the fixtures and the international calendar, I think they’ve shown before that in certain circumstances, they can move the fixtures around.

“Maybe this is a case where they are going to have to help us out and move some fixtures away from June. ”

Scottish and Polish FAs united in fundraising appeal

The game against Poland at Hampden Park has taken on more significant meaning, following the announcement that £10 from every ticket sold will go to Unicef’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

This date in Poland’s calendar was freed up as they were due to face Russia, with Fifa and Uefa suspending their national team from all competitions.

“I think it’s fantastic that the Scottish FA and the Polish FA could get together and organise, with the help of UNICEF, this game,” added Clarke.

“Hopefully the Scottish public and the Tartan Army will do everything they can to get there and support in whatever small way we can to try and help a little bit.

“When you see the images of kids getting chucked on a train and shipped out of their homeland, it’s heartbreaking. Anything we can do to help them is great. That’s the primary aim of this fixture.

“Obviously the sporting aim is to get my squad together. I haven’t seen them for four months. It’s important we get together and brush up on a few principles and ideas that we always work on and prepare ourselves for competitive matches in June.”

New and familiar faces in Scotland squad

Bologna defender Aaron Hickey has earned a maiden Scotland call-up
Bologna defender Aaron Hickey has earned a maiden Scotland call-up

Aaron Hickey is the main new name in the Scotland squad, after an impressive season in Italy with Bologna.

There had been some debate about his status within the setup, after Hickey had reportedly refused to join up with the under-21s.

“He’s adaptable. I’ve seen him playing a couple of games off the right for Bologna and he did okay,” said Clarke. “He can play off the left. In our group he’s obviously got competition with the captain Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney in front of him.

“It gives me a chance to see Aaron up close in a training camp. That’s the reason behind that one.”

Ryan Jack also returns to the squad after not featuring since November 2020, having missed a significant period of time with a persistent calf problem.

“He’s due all the credit you want to give him but I never really had any doubts about Ryan because of his character,” added Clarke. “I know what he’s like and I obviously spoke to him a couple of times over his prolonged period out.

Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack is back in the Scotland squad
Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack is back in the Scotland squad

“He was an integral part of the team that qualified for Euro 2020. That he couldn’t make it was disappointing for me but probably devastating for Ryan.

“So to come back and hit the ground running? Normally, I think if someone is out for six months injured it normally takes a similar length of time before they get back to their levels. Ryan was out for the best part of a year and he’s come back at his normal level.

“That’s credit to the work that he did over his rehab period and the fact he has such a strong mental attitude that he can be such a key player for Rangers and hopefully for Scotland going forward.”

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