Scotland manager Steve Clarke has said that his side’s lack of major tournament experience won’t pose a problem when they face Czech Republic.
The men’s national team end a 23-year wait to play at a finals when they take to the field at Hampden on Monday, with further group games against England and Croatia to come.
Clarke shrugged off any suggestion that his team were inexperienced, pointing out that although the nation hadn’t been at the elite level for a while, his staff and players had enjoyed their own moments of success and shown that they could handle the spotlight.
“One of my assistants, Steven Reid, went to the World Cup with his country so he has that experience and can share that with the players,” he said.
“We’ve also got big game players. Andy Robertson’s played in world championships and he’s won the Champions League. Billy Gilmour was involved with Chelsea a couple of weeks ago when they won the Champions League.
“Scott McTominay played in a European final. I’ve coached a team in the Champions League final myself. We understand big games, big moments.
“Big games are for big players, and we believe we have enough big players to handle the occasion.”
The head coach believes that there may even be less weight on the players’ shoulders given that the breakthrough moment of reaching a finals was a success in itself. Now he thinks the players can rise to the challnge of further progress.
“I think when you qualify for the first time in 23 years, you probably feel a little bit less pressure,” he said. “We’ve done well to be in the tournament.
“We’re looking forward to it. We’re going to go there and give our best, give our all in every single game and try to make the next step to the knockout stages, which would be a first for the men’s A national team. So that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Clarke said that the opening match against the Czechs was a chance to “set your stall out” and make a strong impression, though he expects the opposition to be just as hungry for success. The manager revealed that he has settled on his team for the match and said that he had to make some tough calls.
“As you would expect, it’s a difficult selection process,” he said. “There are 26 players all doing their best in a really high level of training.
“A lot of them have done well for me before in international games so there are difficult decisions but that’s what I’m paid to do.”
With around 12,000 fans at Hampden for the match, Clarke expects to welcome the return of crowd noise to the national stadium and want the excitement in the stands while his players harness their own enthusiasm on the pitch.
“I think the country, the Tartan Army can get excited and get carried away,” he said. “They can get over-excited.
“For the staff and players, we can be excited to be in the tournament after such a long time but we have to keep an emotional control so that when we do get to the match we play to our full potential. I believe that if we do that then we can get a good result.”