Scotland boss Steve Clarke believes Scotland’s focus should now be on improving chances of a place at World Cup 2022 after sealing qualification for next year’s European Championships.
The Scotland team play Israel in Netanya on Wednesday knowing that a win would see them win their Nations League group and be promoted to League A. An added benefit of winning the group is that it would provide a big chance of being handed one of the two World Cup play-off spots for Qatar 2022.
Having reached Euro 2020 by a similar route, Clarke knows the value and urged Scotland to take their chance. With the World Cup qualification campaign starting with a trio of games next March, he said the focus would be on that competition for a while before the serious countdown to the Euros begins.
“This is another step on the road to the World Cup in Qatar 2022, which is where we want to be,” he said. “So from now on, really until April, the focus is on the World Cup. This game can give us a chance to be in a play-off for it as a back-up. We want to qualify as of right and we look forward to the draw for the World Cup qualifiers in December.
“We’ll be in pot three, which is a little bit of progress. We’ve gone from League C in the Nations League to League B – which is progress – and we’re one win away from the A league. So we want to keep progressing. In football you don’t want to stand still because everybody runs past you.
“Maybe that’s what happened over the last 20-odd years and we don’t want that to happen to us.”
Israel have been regular opponents in the last two years, in both Nations League groups as well as being the side Clarke’s team beat in the play-off semi-final. The manager was quick to point out that they had proven themselves to be tough opponents.
“All the games against Israel recently have been close,” he said. The last one obviously finished in a penalty shoot-out.
“The one before that finished 1-1 and before that there were one-goal wins for both countries, so we expect a tough night.
“I know everyone keeps knocking them down and saying they are not the strongest team in the group, but they are a good team with dangerous players.
“We’re not getting carried away. We don’t think we’re anywhere near the finished article. We have to keep improving. We’ve built a good squad and you can see the togetherness in the group, which is really important. The confidence is building but we lost our last game, so we need to win the next one and get ourselves moving again.”