Steve Clarke's Scotland are ready to dine at the top table

CRAIG HOPE: As their 2-0 win over Spain showed, Scotland are VERY good. Steve Clarke deserves more praise than he often receives and his emotional intelligence is bringing the best out of his players

  • Scotland look set to qualify for the European Championships once again
  • Steve Clarke has made them into a strong side that currently look impressive
  • The 59-year-old is a fine coach and the future is bright under his management

It is an irrelevance, really, amid an otherwise bloody and barbaric tale, but if Russia had not invaded Ukraine, Scotland probably would have qualified for the World Cup.

Their absence from Qatar has eroded memory of what went before, when Steve Clarke’s side were Europe’s most in-form nation, winning their last six qualifiers to set up a play-off semi-final against Ukraine.

That fixture was understandably delayed and Scotland, with momentum reversed and key players missing, lost 3-1 on a strange night in Glasgow, when even proud Scots such as Graeme Souness wanted Ukraine to win.

So, when they beat Spain 2-0 on Tuesday night – to much fanfare and wider acclaim – it was not nearly so much of a surprise to regular observers. Scotland are very good, and even that statement may be a disservice.

They will, many have perhaps forgotten, replace England in Nations League A in 2024, a year that is also likely to include participation at the European Championship in Germany. Starved of success for so long, Scotland are ready to dine at the top table, and not just by picking up those reservations set aside as spare.

Scott McTominay made Scottish history by scoring twice in the 2-0 win over Spain on Tuesday

Scotland lost to Ukraine in a World Cup play-off last year as they tried to qualify for the tournament

Manager Steve Clarke has made Scotland into a threatening side that will likely be at the European Championships again

For that, Clarke deserves more credit than he often receives. When he signed a new contract to beyond the World Cup in 2026 last week, there were some grumblings. His flatline demeanour does little to quicken the pulse of supporters. But given the consistency of his message and, in turn, his team’s performance, the palpitations caused by Scotland teams of old are now less common.

Take Saturday’s 3-0 win over Cyprus, where excitement was derived from the boredom of it all. Was this really a Scotland side strolling to a routine victory? It was like one of those sedate afternoons at the Etihad Stadium when Manchester City blow away Southampton without ever needing to refill their lungs.

Clarke built his reputation as a fine coach. But the evolution of his team in four years as manager has not been accelerated by his work on the training pitch, even he would admit to that. How can it when you see players once every few months?

Eyebrows were raised when Clarke signed a new contract, but he has delivered two wins from two since

The 59-year-old has continued to develop as a coach and allows fans to feel a connection with the squad

Rather, at 59, he has shown that an old dog can learn new tricks, and it is tricks of the mind which have tartan tails wagging. The development of Clarke’s own emotional intelligence has been at the core of their improvement. He spends one-to-one time with every player and places as much emphasis on dining-room dynamics as he does dressing-room.

To spend time around the Scotland camp is to experience a club camaraderie. Their star players are as grounded as a mighty oak. Captain Andy Robertson, famously, once worked in the ticket office at Hampden Park, while Kieran Tierney used to carry his boots to Arsenal games in a Tesco bag.

Fans feel a connection to the squad and, for the first time in a generation, every home match is sell-out. It helps that those players grow an inch and gain a yard in the blue of their country. How else do you explain Scott McTominay’s four goals in an hour over the course of those games against Cyprus and Spain? His last four for Manchester United go back 15 months.

But Scotland under Clarke are only concerned about the future, not the past.. It would be wrong to call this the start of their journey, too. They have been gathering pace for some time now. It just needs nights like Tuesday for others to take notice.

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