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Willie Miller: However England friendly pans out, Steve Clarke’s Scotland have surely earned respect of top teams before Euros

The Scotland national team legend hails the Scots after Friday's comfortable win in Cyprus made it 11 consecutive qualifying victories.

Steve Clarke at the side of the pitch for Scotland during the Euros 2024 qualifiers
Scotland's coach Steve Clarke claps during the Euro 2024 group A qualifying soccer match between Cyprus and Scotland at AEK arena stadium in Larnaca, Cyprus, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Image: AP.

Tuesday night may be a glorious one for Scotland’s national team – with a friendly opportunity to beat England, as well as a potential result elsewhere which could seal their all-but-certain qualification for Euro 2024.

Until I see how the England game pans out, I am a bit wary of putting too much emphasis on what the Dark Blues winning the game would mean in the grand scheme of things, historic rivalry with the Auld Enemy aside.

It will depend on how both managers treat tonight’s match.

From Steve Clarke’s comments in advance of the fixture celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first international match between the oldest foes in world football, I got the impression the Scotland gaffer is taking it seriously.

If England boss Gareth Southgate also treats it like a competitive clash, fielding all of his stars, like Harry Kane, then it will be a real measure of where the Scots are at compared to one of the strongest nations in the current international landscape, and ahead of next summer’s European Championship in Germany.

Keep Scotland v England friendly fiery, but give loyal Scots squad members their chance

While Tuesday’s friendly could see Scotland go all out to take the scalp of the losing finalists from the last Euros, I do think there is a balance to be struck in terms of Clarke’s team selection.

You want, and expect, Scotland-England matches to have plenty of fire and edge to them.

Players on both sides – our side perhaps slightly more so down the years – will be desperate to return to their clubs with the bragging rights over their team-mates.

The Scots are also riding the crest of a wave at the moment, and following recent notable Hampden wins over Spain in Euros qualifying and Denmark a couple of years ago in World Cup qualifying, you want to get another feather in the cap, and to keep building the momentum and reputation of this team.

It is not a meaningless game, by any means – but it is still a friendly.

And if either side make loads of substitutions throughout, the game will not be a true reflection of the quality either possesses, and the result will be less relevant.

I would like to see both sides go for it.

Lewis Ferguson during a Scotland training session
Lewis Ferguson during a Scotland training session. Image: SNS.

But I do think it is a good opportunity for Clarke to reward some of his squad who have not featured as much, and been loyal to the cause – former Aberdeen players Lewis Ferguson (now Bologna) and Scott McKenna (Nottingham Forest) among them – with game time.

He is a shrewd enough manager to get this balancing act correct on the night.

Scots have surely earned respect of top nations with 11-game streak

Whatever happens against England, Clarke’s team will still be on an incredible run in competitive games, with 11 straight victories now in qualifying matches.

Their fantastic recent results should give everybody – Clarke, the squad, fans and other observers – the confidence this current Scotland crop are going somewhere.

It is all-but-confirmed following Friday’s 3-0 win in Cyprus they will be going to Germany next summer, having also qualified for the last Euros.

Scotland's John McGinn celebrates with Scott McTominay
Scotland’s John McGinn celebrates with Scott McTominay after making it 3-0 against Cyprus. Image: SNS.

The next challenge for them will be to make history and become the first Scotland team to qualify out of their group at a major tournament finals.

With their current form, they should certainly be in the eyeline of Europe’s top nations at the moment.

In October, they play their return qualifier against Spain – who will be looking for no small measure of revenge for their Hampden humbling earlier in the qualifying group.

That will definitely be a game where both sides got all out for victory, and will certainly provide us with a true idea of how Scotland stack up against a Continental powerhouse fewer than 12 months out from the Euros finals.

I feel Clarke’s Scots will now have the respect of the top countries, given how they have been going about their business.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke and John McGinn shaking hands
Scotland manager Steve Clarke and John McGinn in Larnaca on Friday. Image: SNS.

There has been a narrative for a good few years our national team are spirited and high energy, but you would think the football we have been playing is now catching the attention of other nations.

In Larnaca against the Cypriots, not only did we score three good first half goals, we then controlled the game with our passing ability in the second half to ease to a record five wins from five in the group.

When you add that to the victories at home against Spain and away in Norway during this qualifying campaign, and the different types of characteristics we have shown in getting those results, we certainly merit respect from the top teams.

Two Scotland players running during the Euros game against Spain.
Scotland beat Spain 2-0 at Hampden earlier in Euros qualifying campaign. Image: Shutterstock.

The three points claimed in Cyprus mean, while Clarke’s side are pitting their wits against Southgate’s Three Lions this evening, results elsewhere could see them achieve the fantastic feat of becoming the first nation to seal their qualification for the Euros – should Norway fail to beat Georgia.ย 

Players like John McGinn on road to cementing their places in Scotland national team history

Players like John McGinn are integral to Clarke’s Scotland – with the midfielder’s 17 international goals meaning he is now just two off striker Ally McCoist’s haul of 19.

I understand, after the Cyprus game, there was a wee bit of discussion online about where McGinn ranks in terms of the greatest-ever players to pull on the Dark Blues jersey.

Personally, I think there is still a wee bit to go in McGinn’s ascent up the ladder to reach the stature of the likes Denis Law (with his 30 goals in just 50 caps), Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness, who all had great achievements at club and international level.

But there is no doubt players like McGinn are on the road to cementing their places in the history books.

John McGinn celebrates with the rest of the Scotland national team
John McGinn celebrates after making it 3-0 against Cyprus. Image: SNS.

Scott McTominay is another one – and it is quite frightening the way two midfielders are rivalling some of our best-ever strikers with the their prolific scoring exploits for the national team in recent matches.

It is testament to boss Clarke for finding the best way to use them, and to the players for consistently delivering impressive performances.

They are key men, and we should not forget Scotland are winning all of these games despite not having an out-and-out, prolific number nine, like we had when we were qualifying for tournaments regularly in decades gone by.

If McGinn and McTominay are among the players who go to Germany for the Euros next summer, it will be another, higher stage on which to keep up their sensational form.

Should the Scots make history by qualifying out of their section at the finals, the voices labelling some of the current group of players among Scotland’s greatest international stars will grow louder.

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