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Steve Clarke expects Ukraine to be ready for Scotland play-off despite war

Steve Clarke expects a tough test from Ukraine (Steve Welsh/PA)
Steve Clarke expects a tough test from Ukraine (Steve Welsh/PA)

Steve Clarke expects Ukraine’s players to be fully prepared for their World Cup play-off against Scotland despite the impact of the war which has erupted in their homeland over the past three months.

The two nations meet next week, on Wednesday June 1, in a rescheduled semi-final showdown which was due to be played in March before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February led to a postponement.

Oleksandr Petrakov and his players have been working at a training camp in Slovenia for the past few weeks, and Scotland boss Clarke believes they will arrive in Glasgow equipped to try to secure a place at the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

“We all understand and respect the position of the Ukrainian team,” said the manager, acknowledging the sensitive backdrop to the fixture. “Fortunately for them they’ve managed to get out of the country and get their players into a training camp.

Ukraine will take on Scotland next week
Ukraine will take on Scotland next week (Marco Iacobucci/PA)

“They’ve been playing matches and they’ll be ready for the game. The most important thing for me as the Scotland head coach is to make sure we’re ready for the game, and we will be ready. Both teams will be ready to go on June 1.”

When the war began there were doubts about whether Ukraine would be able to fulfil the fixture, but Clarke is delighted they have been able to get themselves into a position where they can have a fair shot at qualification.

“It’s good that it’s going ahead,” he said. “It’s been a long wait since November when we found out who we were playing.

“Obviously circumstances have changed for the Ukrainian team but I’m pleased they’ve got the opportunity to come out and play for their country. They’ll want to represent their country well, and we’re no different.

“We’ve waited a long time for this game, to be in this position to qualify for a World Cup, and we’re determined to get to Qatar.”

Asked if the emotional aspect of Ukraine’s predicament will be a factor in the match, Clarke said: “For us, the football is very important. We want to go to the World Cup. Myself, my staff, my players, we all want to be there. Certainly for me in my head, I just focus on the match.”

Apart from the absence of injured duo Kenny McLean and Kieran Tierney, Clarke’s squad has a familiar look to it. He is hoping the sense of continuity can help the team maintain momentum.

“We’re eight games unbeaten,” he said. “We’ve done pretty well since last summer. We’re in a good place. I’ve gone pretty much same again (personnel-wise). I’ve added one or two in but nothing new, there are no shocks.

“Everybody that comes in knows what to expect. I know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from me so hopefully we just pick up where we left off in March and keep that unbeaten run going for two more games at least.”

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