Steve Clarke says Scotland squad ‘desperate’ for Euro 2020 place

Scotland beat Israel on penalties and recorded 1-0 wins against Slovakia and the Czech Republic last monthScotland’s players are “desperate” to give the nation a lift by beating Serbia to qualify for Euro 2020 next summer, says head coach Steve Clarke.

The national side travel to Belgrade for the play-off game next Thursday.

Clarke has picked a 27-man squad aiming to end what would be a 23-year wait for a major finals.

“I know the feeling within the group – the players are desperate; desperate to lead their country to a major finals,” Clarke told BBC Scotland.

Scotland return for Griffiths, Gordon & HanleyListen: Scotland boss Clarke on preparing for Serbia”This group of players won’t lack for effort and endeavour, and the will and attitude to get themselves across that line and make sure we’re involved in Euro 2020 next summer, which would be great for the nation and give everyone a lift, especially in these difficult times.”

Scotland go into the meeting with Serbia and Nations League matches against Slovakia and Israel on the back of eight matches without defeat and having kept three clean sheets in a row.

There are just three changes to the group who played in those matches, with Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths, Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon, and Grant Hanley of Norwich the only additions.

Clarke told BBC Scotland’s Sportsound programme that he has made a conscious effort to maintain consistency of selection.

“It’s something I tried to work on from the low point when we lost 4-0 in Russia,” he said. “We had a little dressing room chat and decided that had to be the low point.

“From then on I’ve tried to keep a consistency in the squad and tried to pick more or less the same group of players so they get to know each other, so they’re not turning up as strangers.

“The three games we won last month were crucial in the growth of the team and the squad.”

September games laid foundationKey to Scotland’s turnaround has been a switch of formation to 3-4-1-2, with Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay deployed as a right-sided centre-back.

Despite starting with unconvincing displays in a goalless Nations League draw with Israel and narrow win over a makeshift Czech side struck by Covid-19, Clarke says the September fixtures laid the foundations.

“It wasn’t so long ago after the September games that everyone was saying that we didn’t know what we were doing, we were a little bit confused and the team and shape wasn’t right,” he said.

“But those two games were crucial in getting us right for the October matches and that’s how we used them and it worked well for us.

“You can’t go from being an idiot in September to a genius in October, there is somewhere in between, and that’s where we are.”

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