Talking points as Scotland begin Euro 2024 qualifying campaign against Cyprus

Scotland begin their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign against Cyprus at Hampden Park on Saturday.

Spain are the visitors to the national stadium next Tuesday night with Norway and Georgia also in the section.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the main talking points ahead of the Group A opener in Glasgow.

Clarke’s new deal offers timely boost

Scotland announced on Friday that Clarke had agreed a deal to extend his time as boss until 2026.

The news broke just before his media conference at Hampden Park ahead of the opening Euro 2024 qualifying double-header against Cyprus and Spain at the national stadium.

The 59-year-old new deal will run until after the 2026 World Cup campaign and he certainly has credit in the bank.

The former Reading, West Brom and Kilmarnock manager guided Scotland to promotion to Nations League Group A after taking his country to Euro 2020 – the men’s national team’s first finals qualification in more than 20 years. However, after losing out in a play-off to get to the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar, expectations will be high for this campaign.

Which debutant will be in goal?

Zander Clark and Angus Gunn (right) are among the trio battling for the gloves
Zander Clark and Angus Gunn (right) are among the trio battling for the gloves (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Scotland’s number one keeper Craig Gordon is recovering from a double leg break which leaves Clarke with a dilemma.

The Scotland boss has to choose between three uncapped keepers, Gordon’s replacement at Tynecastle, Zander Clark, Motherwell number one Liam Kelly and Angus Gunn, son of former Scotland shot-stopper Bryan Gunn.

The Canaries keeper came through the under-age groups with England until under-21 level and has spoken about how proud he will be to hear the national anthem at Hampden Park.

However, Clarke was keeping his cards close to his chest on Friday afternoon, saying that after all three men had performed well in training and he had yet to make a decision.

History on Scotland’s side

Oliver Burke scores a late winner against Cyprus
Oliver Burke scores a late winner against Cyprus (Jeff Holmes/PA)

On the face of it, the visit of bottom seeds Cyprus to Hampden Park offers Scotland the chance of a quick start to their campaign.

Temur Ketsbaia’s side are ranked 110th in the world, while the hosts are 45th, and the Scots have won all seven meetings since the first clash in 1968.

However, in the last meeting at Hampden Park in June, 2019 – in Clarke’s first game as national team boss – it took a last-gasp strike from Oliver Burke to give Scotland victory.

The last four meetings have ended 2-1 to the Scots who will no doubt have to work hard to get the three points before the visit of Spain next Tuesday night.

Landmark appearance for McGregor

Callum McGregor is set to make a milestone appearance
Callum McGregor is set to make a milestone appearance (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Celtic captain Callum McGregor will earn his 50th cap if, as expected, he is chosen to play against Cyprus.

McGregor has been a mainstay of the Hoops and Scotland midfield for several seasons but there is increasing experience beside him.

John McGinn, top scorer with 15 goals, has 52 caps, Kenny McLean has made 28 appearances, Scott McTominay 37 and Stuart Armstrong 40, while Billy Gilmour (16) and Ryan Jack (14) are no rookies.

Since taking over four years ago Clarke has looked forward to the day when his squad is packed with experience and the midfield pack has certainly got that.