Steve Clarke admits he faces a selection headache ahead of Scotland’s do-or-die Euro 2020 play-off clash with Serbia.
An early Ryan Fraser goal sealed a backs-to-the-wall victory over a slick Czech Republic and made it eight games unbeaten for the Scots for the first time since 1987/88.
Extending the run to nine in Serbia next month would equal a benchmark last set in 1976 and secure Scotland’s first appearance at a major international finals since France 98.
Scotland are on their longest unbeaten run for 32 years after beating the Czech Republic
With absentees Ryan Christie, Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney and Scott McKenna all banging on the door for a return to the squad against Serbia, however, Clarke admits he faces some sleepless nights in the coming weeks.
‘The confidence in the squad is sky high now. There are players who have missed out this month who will be desperate to be involved next month.
‘Then there are the players who have come in out the cold who will be desperate to be involved again. I wouldn’t like to be the national coach who needs to pick a squad…’
The Czechs have already booked a return to Glasgow for next summer’s Euro 2020 finals as automatic qualifiers and Clarke has now challenged his players to secure a Hampden rematch after extracting huge positives from the victories over Israel, Slovakia and the Czechs.
Ryan Fraser’s assured sixth-minute finish proved the difference on a cold night at Hampden
‘The Czech coach said to me after the game that he hopes to see us here next summer,’ Clarke revealed. ‘That was a nice message and it’s a good incentive.
‘We know how big the game is and we are aware of how everyone is going to build it up. We need to stay focused, stay calm and work on what we are good at.’
Fraser’s second international goal for Scotland secured a four-point lead over the Czechs at the summit of Nations League Group B2.
With two World Cup play-off places up for grabs for the strongest group winners, the Scots travel to Israel and Slovakia after Serbia next month with a spring in their step after some backs-to-the-wall defending.
‘We showed a lot of resilience with good defensive organisation on the pitch so yes, it was a good night and we got a big result against a good team,’ Clarke said.
Stuart Armstrong (left), Ryan Christie (second right) and Kieran Tierney were self-isolating
A match against Serbia on November 12 stands between Scotland and a first Euros since 1996
‘We’ve been working towards this since we lost 4-0 heavily in Russia. We said that would be the low point and since then we’ve started trying to build the confidence, to find a way to be resilient and get victories.
‘Eight games later we are starting to show that we are improving as a team and improving as a squad of players as well.
‘Don’t forget before that defeat in Russia we had also lost 3-0 and 4-0 to Belgium. These guys are proud professional footballers and nobody likes to lose that amount of goals. Nobody likes to go on a four-match losing streak, which is what we did.
‘On the back of that we had to slowly repair the confidence because you have to understand the confidence goes very quickly.
Czech Republic will be at next summer’s finals and could face Scotland at Hampden next June
‘So we’ve tried to build it back up. We tweaked the system a little bit last month and it’s starting to show signs that maybe it can help us going forward.
‘We want to be resilient, we want to be hard to beat, we want to show that Scottish character.
‘But we also want to have the flair we showed in periods of this game, especially in the first half when we did create a couple of really good opportunities to get another goal.’
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