Steve Clarke wants Scotland to use their final Euro 2024 qualifiers against Georgia and Norway to regain their momentum ahead of the finals in Germany next summer.
The Scots initially suspected they might need positive results from their last two games in Group A to qualify so organised a warm-weather training camp in Turkey at the start of next week to give themselves the best possible preparation ahead of their penultimate fixture in Tbilisi on Thursday.
However, after a blistering start to their campaign, they sealed their place at the tournament with two games to spare, so their main priority in the upcoming camp is to spark an upturn in results after successive defeats against England, Spain and France.
“We’ll be doing something similar to what we did when we went to Moldova (in 2021, when they had a warm-weather training camp in Spain), so we’ll leave early, on Sunday night after the games, and we’re going to stop off in Turkey and have a couple of days of hopefully warm weather there to break up the journey,” Clarke said at a press conference on Wednesday after naming his squad for the double-header.
“We identified these two games – Georgia away and Norway at home – as crucial games in the qualification process, but credit to the players, they’ve already qualified, so the games are not quite as crucial.
“But when you strip it back, we’ve lost the last three games, so we want to pick up a little bit of momentum going into the tournament next summer, so these two games are very important for us.
“It will be good to come here to finish the campaign with a home game against Norway and hopefully a good performance.
“It will be a chance for the crowd to thank the players and a chance for the players to thank the crowd. It will be a bit of a poor night if we don’t win the game, so let’s make sure we win the game.”
The 2-0 defeat by Spain in Seville saw Scotland relinquish top spot in Group A on goal difference. Spain finish away to Cyprus and at home to Georgia.
“I think to finish top is going to be very difficult,” said Clarke. “As I sit here now, it’s difficult for me to see Spain dropping any points from their last two games.
“We’ll just focus on ourselves and, if we can finish on the same points as Spain and they manage to top the group by an unfortunate slip from Aaron Hickey in the 2-0 defeat by Spain in Seville, we’ll take that.”
Steve Clarke has named his Scotland squad for our final two matches of 2023.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) November 8, 2023
Scotland are missing four established starters for this month’s double-header, with goalkeeper Angus Gunn, captain Andrew Robertson, and fellow defenders Kieran Tierney and Aaron Hickey all injured.
Rangers defender John Souttar and Millwall forward Kevin Nisbet are the other notable absentees following their recent fitness issues.
Uncapped duo Josh Doig and Robby McCrorie, both of whom have been in previous camps, have been included, along with Celtic right-back Anthony Ralston.
“This is probably the toughest it’s been in terms of injuries in the last year or so,” said Clarke. “I remember in September last year we had to go to Ukraine in the Nations League with pretty much a shadow squad, but we dug in and got the result required.
“That’s what we’ll do this time. We can talk about the ones who are not here, but I always prefer to talk about the ones that are going to be here, so fingers crossed there are no more injuries before the squad meet up on Sunday.”
With first-choice Gunn missing with an injury he sustained for Norwich against Leeds last month, Motherwell’s Liam Kelly and Hearts’ Zander Clark, both of whom made their international bows in the friendly defeat by France last month, will vie to make their competitive debuts over the next two games.
“Obviously one of them is going to get a chance to play in the games coming up, so it’s a big camp for them,” said Clarke. “They know they have to impress.
“They’ve been in a lot of squads so they understand it and know the expectation around them. Hopefully they train well and are ready to play.”
Clarke included uncapped Verona left-back Doig after he was initially named in Scot Gemmill’s under-21 squad this week.
“Josh is doing well in Serie A, playing pretty regularly for his club,” said Clarke.
“He’s a good, athletic player who gets up and down the line. It will be nice to see how he’s improved and how he fits into the camp since we last saw him last September.”
Clarke insists he has not allowed his attention to turn towards his final 23-man squad for the Euros just yet.
“It won’t be a headache, it will be a difficult choice,” he said. “There’s obviously going to be a lot of people that want to be there.
“For me, it’s about not thinking too far ahead to picking the 23 because as this camp shows, injuries can turn up at any time.
“There’s a long way to go before the final squad is picked. Every game between now and the squad selection for the Euros next summer is a chance for somebody to impress so hopefully they take their chances.”