Clarke: Players will handle the big occasion
Big occasion: Steve Clarke (pic: SNS Group)
Scotland boss Steve Clarke insists his men can handle the pressure of playing in their first major championship for more than two decades.
The Scots kick-off their Euro 2020 challenge this afternoon against the Czech Republic at Hampden Park in front of 12,000 supporters, 23 years since they competed in the World Cup in France.
“We have done well to be in the tournament. We are looking forward to it,” said Clarke.
“We understand big games, big moments. Big games are for big players and we believe we have enough big players to handle the occasion.
“Andy Robertson has played in World Championships, he has won the Champions League. Billy Gilmour was involved with Chelsea a couple of weeks ago in the Champions League (final).
“Scott McTominay played in a European final. I have coached a team in the final of the Champions League myself.”
The Group D clash is an historic occasion for the team and Clarke says the players will have to keep their emotions in check to help them perform at their best.
“We are going to go and give our best and give our all in every single game,” he said. “And we are going to try and make the next step to the knockout stages, which would be a first for the men’s national team
“The country, the Tartan Army, they can get over-excited for us.
“We have to be excited to be involved in the tournament, but we have to keep emotional control so when we get to the match we play to our full potential.
“Normally when players are relaxed, they play well. So we try to keep them calm, keep them relaxed, and I tell them to go and enjoy the moment.”
Captain Robertson noted the changes to the team since supporters last attended a Scotland match.
“The last time the Scotland fans were in was the Kazakhstan game and a lot has changed since then in the team and squad,” said the Liverpool defender.
“A lot of kids, teenagers and people in their early 20s, have unfortunately never witnessed us in a major tournament, and the fact that’s now going to happen, I hope it inspires the nation.”
Clarke has no injury worries in his 26-man squad, but says he has already decided on his starting XI to face the Czechs.
Midfielder John Fleck will not feature in the opener, having missed several days’ training after testing positive for Covid-19 at the pre-tournament camp in Spain.
The Czechs are at full strength, with Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela omitted from the squad as he serves a 10-match UEFA ban for racially abusing Rangers’ Glen Kamara in a Europa League tie.
Scotland have won each of their last three matches against the Czech Republic, their longest current winning run against any of the other 23 nations qualified for Euro 2020. It’s the first meeting between both sides at a major tournament.
A Raheem Sterling goal gave England a 1-0 win over Croatia in the Group D match at Wembley, a first opening game victory in their 10th appearance in the tournament.
Scotland v Czech Republic, kick-off 2pm.