Steve Clarke urges Scotland to leave it all on the pitch against Serbia
Steve Clarke has urged Scotland to make sure they leave Belgrade with no regrets as they prepare to take on the final hurdle blocking their Euro 2020 dream.
The Scots are looking to end a 22-year wait to qualify for a major finals when they take on Serbia on Thursday night.
And Clarke expects his players to go the extra mile in their bid to deliver the Tartan Army a ticket to next summer’s finals.
He said: “When you go into every game (no regrets) is obviously a message you want to give, that you leave everything out there on the pitch.
“This game, with its magnitude, means I don’t need to say that because the players understand if they come off the pitch with regrets then they will never forget that night.
“You go out there, you do your best, you do everything you can and hopefully the footballing gods give you a little bit of luck, they smile on you a bit and you get the right result.”
The majority of Clarke’s team have no memory at all of seeing Scotland in action at a major tournament.
The barren years since Colin Hendry led out his team to face Brazil in the opening match of France ’98 have been filled with near-misses and painful let downs for the Scotland support.
And that is why Clarke is all the more desperate to ensure today’s fanbase get to taste the kind of experiences on which the Tartan Army of yesteryear built their fun-loving reputation.
“That makes me feel quite old,” he said after it was pointed out that some of his team were barely out of nappies when Scotland last joined in one of the international game’s summer jamborees.
“Some mentioned that Scott McKenna was only two the last time Scotland qualified.
“I was still playing the last time Scotland qualified, so it’s a very, very long time ago.
“There is definitely a generation that has missed that atmosphere and feeling you get as a nation when you get to one of these tournaments, that proud feeling, so hopefully this group can deliver.”
It was a relaxed show from Clarke as he met the media at the team’s Oriam base on the outskirts of Edinburgh before their 8pm flight to the Balkans.
That calmness comes from the assurance he and his back-room staff have done all they can to prepare the players – now it is down to them.
But there was also a glint of confidence in the eye of the national team boss, the result of an eight game unbeaten streak which suggests the Scots have hit form at the perfect time.
“The lads are very focused,” he said. “We understand the task in hand. But for us, it’s business as usual. It’s a game of football. We know we can only win or lose, we know the magnitude of the prize at the end of it.
“But ultimately we have to rely on the principles of the way we’ve been playing in recent matches.
“I think the players are grounded. There’s no point us getting carried away with ourselves.
“As a nation we’ve been here often enough before without getting over the line so this group of players understand what’s at stake and is needed to get it done this time.
“The players just need to look at me. I don’t go running about the meeting room trying to stir them up.
“It is really difficult to say but this is just another game. You can only win if you do the basics right, everything that’s worked for us recently. If we do then we have a great chance and that’s all we can focus on.”
Clarke does have some selection dilemmas to mull over, such as how to replace injured Newcastle forward Ryan Fraser, the star of last month’s triple-header.
But he said: “I have good options. We can go different ways. I can tweak the shape of the team to suit certain players.”
Serbia have not won a game inside 90 minutes in a year – but Clarke remains wary having seen them stun a Norway side containing Borussia Dortmund superstar Erling Haaland after extra-time last month to set up their showdown with the Scots.
“I would counter that by saying that in the biggest game they faced recently, they played their best game, so I think we can expect Serbia to be at 100 per cent performance and attitude-wise,” added Clarke.
“We expect their strongest team and their best performance, so we have to be ready for that.”