Scotland manager Steve Clarke has declared 2021 a year of “development and progress” for the national team.
The Scots played at the European Championship in the summer – their first major tournament in 23 years – when they drew with England and lost against Czech Republic and Croatia.
Despite a group-stage exit, Clarke believes the experience of Euro 2020 was crucial in helping the Scots get to a point where they were able to go on and win their closing six World Cup qualifiers to finish second in their section and secure a play-off spot.
Clarke, reflecting on the past year in an interview with the Scottish Football Association, said: “I always felt the tournament would make us better. It didn’t look that way when we went to Denmark in the first game. It was a tough night for us.
“That was the most difficult week for me in terms of preparations with injuries, call-offs and Covid.
“People don’t see what happens behind the scenes and how difficult it is to try and shape up and get a team ready for a really tough game against a Denmark side on a really big high coming off the Euros.
“It was a tough night and we got criticised after it but even in that game there were a lot of good things the team showed me in terms of their spirit and character and they carried that into the last six games. They had a big win in Austria.
“We put ourselves in a position where we had to do that (to stay in the qualification hunt) but the pleasing thing for me is if you put yourself in a position where you need to do something, and you can do it, it shows you’re a good team.”
Six months on, Clarke still bristles at any suggestion that Scotland flopped at Euro 2020. Victory in their closing match would have taken them to the last 16 but they lost 3-1 to Croatia.
He said: “A lot of people were trying to point the finger at the tournament in the summer and saying it wasn’t good from us. I watched the Czech Republic game back more than once and there was nothing in the game.
“It was a game of football where the breaks went for them and didn’t go for us. Then we were on the back foot. We went to Wembley having to get something from the game, which we did.
“But it was a massive physical effort and it probably took a little edge off us going into the Croatia game.
“There were more pivotal moments in that game. At 1-1 we had a fantastic chance at the back post and John McGinn will tell you himself he should have scored.
“If we go 2-1 the game can change. But then (Luka) Modric did what Modric can do and we lost to a quality team. There’s no shame losing to a quality team. The tournament didn’t quite work out the way we wanted.
“But in terms of development and progress for the national team, the tournament was massive.
“It brought us together and gave us more time together and I think we saw the results of that when we had to get good results towards the end of the qualifying campaign and we won six in a row, which is no mean feat.”