Steve Clarke and his Scotland players hope to take a first step towards Euro 2024 when they face Cyprus in their first qualifying match at Hampden on Saturday afternoon.
The men’s national team are aiming to reach the finals in Germany next summer but are in a tough qualifying group and know they will need a strong start to what will be a testing campaign.
The draw has pitted Scotland against Spain, Norway, Georgia and Cyprus in a five-team group, with the top two qualifying automatically for the finals.
Scotland’s Nations League heroics have earned the team a lifeline of a play-off place if they don’t make the top two but Clarke insists the team don’t want to be relying on that knock-out path to German when they can get it right first time with a strong showing in the group games.
Saturday’s match against Cyprus is the first of two home games within four days, with a Spain team ranked tenth in the world visiting Hampden on Tuesday night.
That game against the top seeds means all efforts will be going towards landing three points from Cyprus in what will be Scotland’s first game since November of last year.
Ahead of the new campaign, Clarke gave the team a boost by signing a new contract to remain as head coach until World Cup 2026. The former Kilmarnock, Reading and West Brom boss has been in the job since 2019 and began his time in charge with a game against Saturday’s opponents. A late Oliver Burke goal earned a 2-1 win then but the Tartan Army will be hoping for a more comfortable win this time around.
Ahead of the game, Clarke reflected on how he feels both the quality of the squad and the performances from the team have improved since them, and he is keen to deliver something special for the support.
“When we named our squad for the double-header, I spoke with my coaches about how the quality and depth of the squad has evolved in those four years,” he said.
“We now have an experienced core who have been constants throughout, but we have also added quality and competition in every area of the team.
“We also played that game in front of around 30,000 fans and will walk out on Saturday, and Tuesday against Spain, to a full house at Hampden Park.
“It’s imperative that we keep the fans and the nations engaged and entertained and that is something we are all committed to achieving through winning games and qualifying for more major tournaments, starting with Germany next year.”
Scotland captain Andy Robertson admitted the group was a difficult one but believes that if the team perform to their capabilities they have a chance of achieving their dreams.
“This is the toughest group in the whole Euro qualifiers I think but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” said the Liverpool left-back.
“As second seeds, I’m not sure we’ve got the benefit from it. We’ve certainly got the toughest pot 3 and pot 4 teams and even pot 5 getting Cyprus.
“We had the feeling of qualifying for the last Euros and we want that feeling again. This squad are hungry to represent the country at more tournaments and we believe we’ve got a chance.”
Following the double head against Cyprus and Spain, the team plays away in Norway on June 17, then welcomes Georgia to Glasgow three days later.
An away game in Cyprus on September 18 is followed by a trip to Spain on October 12.
The national side then conclude their fixtures with a trip to Cyprus on November 16 and a home match against Norway on November 19.
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