Scotland boss Steve Clarke has stressed the importance of the national team’s remaining Euro 2024 qualifiers, even though a place at next year’s finals has already been earned.
A strong campaign meant that Spain’s win over Norway last month ensures Scotland’s qualification with two game to spare.
Clarke is now preparing his side for the double header away to Georgia and at home to Norway with the pressure off him and his players.
Scotland sit level on points with Spain but trailing the top seeds on goal difference and it would be a surprise if Luis de la Fuente’s team dropped points against Cyprus or Georgia to put their place as group winners at risk.
But though Scotland look destined to finish second, Clarke sees a real importance in taking positive results over the next two weeks.
The qualifying defeat to Spain last month came in between friendly losses to England and France and though Clarke sees huge value in developing his side through games against top-level opposition, he wants to build a winning run again.
Explaining that the team will head to Turkey for warm weather training before the game in Georgia, he said the team was ahead of schedule but that wins were important.
“[The Turkey stop-over] was forward thinking because we identified the two games, Georgia away and Norway at home, as going to be crucial games in the qualification process,” Clarke said.
“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 and we want to pick up a little bit of momentum for going into the tournament next summer so these games are very important for us.
“To finish top is going to be very difficult. As I sit here now, it’s difficult to see Spain dropping any points in 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 off an unfortunate slip by Aaron Hickey in the 2-0 defeat in Seville then we’ll take that.”
The manager had earlier named a squad without Angus Gunn, Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and Aaron Hickey due to various injuries, with other players returning to the squad. He said that the prospect of next year’s Euro finals in Germany gave everyone a target to aim for.
“Every game between now and the squad selection for the Euros next summer is a chance for somebody to impress,” he said. “So hopefully they take their chances.”
Among those called up was Hellas Verona’s young full-back Josh Doig. Though he would have a challenge to make the Euros squad with more experienced players ahead of him in the same area of the pitch, Clarke is keen to measure his progress this time around.
“Josh is doing well in Serie A,” he said. “He plays pretty regularly for his club.
“He’s a good athletic player and gets up and down the line.
“It’ll be nice to see how he has improved. Obviously we saw him in the camp last September so it’ll be nice to see how he has improved and how he fits into the camp this time.”
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