Clarke cracks the code to unlock door to major tournament
Scotland ended a 22-year wait in the wilderness from any finals – the last being World Cup 1998 – by reaching Euro 2020 with dramatic play-off success against Israel and Serbia.
- Scotland finished third in their group behind Belgium and Russia, but made use of their passport from topping their Nations League group to embrace their third European Championship after Euro ’92 and Euro ’96.
- Clarke’s template has been to make the team hard to beat. But he has a talented generation who have flourished in England, such as Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and John McGinn, along with Celtic stars James Forrest, Ryan Christie, Callum McGregor and Leigh Griffiths, who have all enjoyed European experience with their club.
- Status is not important. Stephen O’Donnell was capped when Clarke was at Kilmarnock, while Lyndon Dykes won his first cap while at Livingston.
Scotland returned to the three-man defence used to reach Euro ’96, allowing defenders Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson to both play on the left-hand side. Scott McTominay’s distribution out of defence frees up a place for another midfielder.
Meteoric rise to become one of the best left-backs in Europe. Talismanic captain for Scotland.
Former Chelsea defender was the supporters’ choice to replace Alex McLeish in May 2019. He has delivered.
Secured the gratitude of every Scot with his goal against Serbia, but his emotional post-match interview in Belgrade captured the heart of the nation, too.
The Celtic midfielder’s tears struck a chord as he hoped the win would lift the coronavirus cloud that hangs over Scotland. The 25-year-old is now one of the most influential players for club and country, with four goals in 14 caps.
This is no surprise to World Soccer, who named Christie the Scottish Newcomer of the Season after he helped his hometown club, Inverness CT, win the Scottish Cup in 2015.
Christie joined Celtic in September 2015 for £500,000 but needed patience. He could not get a place on the bench during Celtic’s invincible campaign of 2016-17. It took a couple of loans at Aberdeen for him to find his feet, and he returned to Celtic in 2018-19 to make his breakthrough, scoring the winner in the League Cup final against Aberdeen.
A crisp passer, he has added goals to his game too, including seven in last season’s Europa League.
Article by Phil Gordon
This article first appeared in the January Edition of World Soccer. You can purchase old issues of the magazine by clicking here.