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Steve Clarke hopeful Scotland can turn euphoria into progress

There is no need to belittle the euphoria that engulfed the Scottish contingent as the full-time whistle blew at Wembley on Friday night. To them, this was not merely a scoreless draw.

After the frustration of a 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic, Scotland used a meeting with England to properly announce their return to tournament football after 23 years. It was a composed, mature display that should arguably have won more than a point. It was also, crucially, a performance that kept Scotland alive and kicking in Group D.

Should they beat Croatia at Hampden Park on Tuesday, qualification for the knockout phase of a championship for the first time will surely be secured.

“Croatia have good attributes, different attributes to England,” said Steve Clarke. “They are a good team who move the ball well. We will have to defend well again and find a way to play through midfield. They have two really top players in midfield in [Mateo] Kovacic and [Luka] Modric; we need to deal with that.

“If we get everybody on the pitch that we want to get on the pitch and they all produce eight out of 10 performances, then you would hope that would be good enough to get us the win we need to get out of the group stages.”

Grant Hanley, outstanding at Wembley and a key factor in the struggles of Harry Kane, emphasised the mood of this squad. “We want to finish the job now and not waste what we did on Friday night,” said the Norwich player. “Nothing has changed since day one when the tournament started. The objective and the goal is the same and we’ve given ourselves a chance.”

Clarke lavished praise on Stephen O’Donnell, the Motherwell full-back subjected to ridiculous criticism after the Czech Republic game. There are traces from Clarke’s public comments that he has instilled a siege mentality, which is strange given the pedestal they have been placed upon simply for ending Scotland’s long tournament wait.

As Clarke bit back, the country had diverted their attention. Billy Gilmour’s grace and poise on his first Scotland start created a level of hype his international manager will naturally try to play down. Not only is that Clarke’s style, Gilmour is only 20. It was left to Steven Reid, one of Clarke’s coaches, to laud the Chelsea midfielder.

“He’s got personality, he’s brave on the ball, he’s got confidence,” Reid said. “I can’t think of too many I’ve coached or played with or against who’ve had that at such a young age.”

The moving of Scott McTominay from midfield to centre‑back, which facilitated Gilmour’s arrival, was probably Clarke’s most astute call.

“You change your team depending on opponents,” he said. “In the first game, I felt we needed Scott’s physicality in midfield and that proved to be the case. It was a very physical game against the Czech Republic.

“For this game, even though you look at England and think they would be on the front foot, they allow the opposition to have a little bit of possession at the back and then press you in the middle of the pitch because they have quick forwards and they like a little bit of space in behind the opposition defence.

“I hoped I could read their gameplan and we would have a little bit more time and space on the ball at the back and that was how it turned out. That was pleasing.”

If Gilmour and the redeployed McTominay were huge positives, Scottish concern surrounds bluntness. They are yet to score in two matches, even though they have had an abundance of opportunities. Not that the former Chelsea coach appears perturbed.

“We created a lot of chances against the Czech Republic and enough chances against England to get a goal,” Clarke said. “I am sure if we create enough against the Croatians on Tuesday night then we can score the goals that we need.

“If you look at the key chances in the England game as an example, Stephen O’Donnell hit his shot very well. It was probably save of the match from [Jordan] Pickford down to his right and the little nuances you need are for that ball to spin up straight on to Che Adams’s head, then he’s nodding it into an empty goal. It was just a little bit too high.

“From their point of view a great save, from our point of view a bit unlucky it didn’t fall for Che.”

Scotland have played their part in enough hard-luck tales. The class of 2021 have it largely in their own hands to buck that trend.

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