Steve Clarke celebrating with his players after Scotland qualified for Euro 2020
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
But for lockdown – and perhaps the weather – a nation would have danced in the streets to celebrate Steve Clarke’s men qualifying for the finals of Euro 2020 with victory over Serbia in Belgrade, putting an end to 22 years of exile from major tournament finals.
Nevertheless, social media did reveal some members of the Tartan Army dancing on their window ledges, a practice not to be recommended if Scotland reach another milestone on Wednesday night in the Netanya Stadium outside Tel Aviv.
Victory over Israel would see the Scots finish top of Nations League Group B2 and be promoted to League A, with its cast of top-class potential opponents; England being a prime example. It would also give Clarke & Co a back-up chance of reaching the 2022 World Cup finals if they do not finish in the top two of their qualifying section, which is a live possibility given that Scotland will be amongst the third seeds when the group draw is made next month.
For this group of Scots to qualify for one tournament finals and make headway towards another, inside the space of six days, would be a heady feat, especially given the barren decades that went before. An antidote to premature euphoria was, however, administered in Trnava when they lost 1-0 to Slovakia, ending a run of nine games without defeat, one match short of equalling a 96-year-old record.
Asked if he had found it tricky to steer his players through three successive contests, all away from home and with history being made on the first occasion, Clarke replied, in the lugubrious manner that is his trademark at such times: “The thing about history is that it’s always in the past.
“We spoke before about creating history. We’ve created that history. Now we need to move on to the next chapter. We were focused on the game on Sunday. You saw the performance was good, focused and deserved more than we got.
“Hopefully, you will see the same tomorrow [Wednesday] night because three points is vital. The next step for us now is to concentrate on World Cup qualification.”
Clarke might be well advised to restore Ryan Jack, who was one of eight players granted a rest on Sunday. The Rangers midfielder has never been on a losing side in a competitive game when chosen by the manager and was not aware that he had, in fact, contributed to six wins and a draw, although he did permit himself to savour his memory of the breakthrough in Belgrade.
“One hundred per cent, the scenes after the match will live with me forever,” Jack said. “It’s a night I’ll never forget and I’m sure all of the lads would echo that.
“It was well deserved and no one can take it away from us – we deserved to have a good night, which we did, but it’s gone now and after that the full focus has to be on the matches moving forward, with Israel next.”
As Telegraph Sport revealed, Clarke is in the habit of having individual sessions with players in the cause of integration, a ploy which Jack declared had been a novelty at this level. “When the manager got the job and we had a conversation, he made me feel a part of the Scotland set up straightaway,” Jack said.
“That was massive for me. On the international scene, if I’m being honest, I’d not really had that before, where I felt right involved and a part of the plans. So that really helped me and from that first conversation I felt like there was the chance with the group we had that we could go and achieve something.”
Israel cannot overtake Scotland in the group, but they are capable of inflicting damage and Clarke’s players know as much after the 1-1 draw in this tournament at Hampden in September and the goalless draw in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final at the same venue last month, which ended in a 5-3 win on penalties.
When the pair met in Euro League qualifiers two years ago, each registered a win at home. “They are a good team and they have shown that in recent matches against us that there is not a lot between the two sides,” Clarke said. “We will have to be at our best to get the result that we want.
“It would be good – and something that we are all determined to make happen tomorrow night, with all respect to Israel.”