• Scotland's Nations League promotion failure provides Steve Clarke with pre-Euros reminder of what's ahead
    The Telegraph

    Scotland's Nations League promotion failure provides Steve Clarke with pre-Euros reminder of what's ahead

    Large mercies first. Steve Clarke’s Scotland players and their followers have the finals of a major tournament to plan for next summer, a state of affairs not known to a generation of the Tartan Army unless they were among the retinue of Shelley Kerr’s team at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The unaccustomed glow of Euro 2020 qualification success against Serbia last week was bound to highlight the subsequent disappointment of 1-0 defeats in Slovakia and Israel. From a utilitarian point of view, however, the Scots’ failure to consolidate a strong position at the top of their Nations League group and secure promotion to League A provided Clarke with timely and valuable reminders of what has to be accomplished before they begin their Euro finals campaign against the Czech Republic at Hampden Park next June. Clarke supervised home and away victories over the Czechs in the Nations League qualifiers, which make its all the more galling that Jaroslav Šilhavý and his team ended as winners of Group B2. Nevertheless, the paradox had been flagged beforehand in these pages when it was pointed out that the Scots had scored only three goals in seven hours of open play in the two home Nations League qualifiers against the Slovaks and Czechs, plus the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel and the final against Serbia. Against both Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Scotland scored with their only chance of the game and they had none at all on the mark in the play-off semi-final against Israel. Oddly, the frequency of attempts on target rose notably in the three fixtures just played on the road, with four apiece against Serbia and Israel and five against Slovakia, but the yield dropped to only a single goal by Ryan Christie in the 1-1 draw in Belgrade.

  • Euro 2020 qualifiers and Nations League finalists ranked: Whose stock is rising and whose is falling?
    The Telegraph

    Euro 2020 qualifiers and Nations League finalists ranked: Whose stock is rising and whose is falling?

    With the schedule for next summer's European Championships now finalised, we assess where each nation stands in the pecking order in our power rankings. Think we are wrong? Tell us which team you think should be top in the comments. 24th: North Macedonia Qualified for their first major tournament since independence 27 years ago with a play-off victory over Georgia, but will be considered rank outsiders. Won only four of 10 games in qualification but earned a shot at the play-offs via the Nations League as one of the group winners from League D. Goran Pandev, Champions League winner with Inter under Jose Mourinho, is still going strong at 37. Will face Holland, Ukraine and Austria in next summer's tournament. 23rd: Finland Qualified for their first Euros automatically with six wins from 10 games in an admittedly soft group. Finland's presence at the tournament will mean 34 of Uefa’s 55 national association members will have made at least one Euros appearance. Teemu Pukki was top goalscorer in qualifying, where it took a late Jorginho penalty for Italy to beat them 2-1. They have also recorded home and away victories against the Republic of Ireland in the Nations League and toppled France in Paris in a friendly. 22nd: Hungary One of the stories of the November international break, Hungary qualified thanks to wonderkid Dominik Szoboszlai's last-minute strike against Iceland. The 20-year-old Red Bull Salzburg midfielder has been linked with a host of Europe's top clubs. Hungary are managed by former Italy defender Marco Rossi. Struggled for goals in qualification with just eight in eight games. 21st: Scotland European football's penalty shootout specialists, Scotland are through to their first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. Steve Clarke was a man under pressure only a few months ago with his tactics frequently questioned, but Scotland's performance slowly improved as the campaign progressed. Lack of depth is a handicap, so Scotland will be keeping everything crossed that key players John McGinn, Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney arrive in one piece. A negative goal difference across 10 qualification games is evidence of their underdog status. Facing England at Wembley will be a momentous occasion.

  • Northern Ireland staying positive despite Nations League relegation
    PA Media: Sport

    Northern Ireland staying positive despite Nations League relegation

    Ian Baraclough says there’s plenty for Northern Ireland fans to be excited about.