Steve Clarke lauds his Scotland players after heroic Ukraine draw in Poland clinches Euro 2024 play-off spot

Scotland manager Steve Clarke, left, celebrates with his backroom team after the 0-0 draw with Ukraine in Poland
Scotland manager Steve Clarke, left, celebrates with his backroom team after the 0-0 draw with Ukraine in Poland

STEVE Clarke tonight lauded his Scotland players after they ground out a gutsy 0-0 draw with Ukraine in Poland to top their Nations League section and land a Euro 2024 play-off spot.

The national team just needed to take a point from their final Group B1 match in Krakow to achieve their objective.

However, Clarke was missing a raft of key players due to injury and suspension and was forced to hand uncapped Hibernian centre half Ryan Porteous his international debut.

Porteous more than justified his selection in the Cracovia Stadium - he helped Scotland to keep a clean sheet against the Euro 2020 quarter-finalists.

Scotland will now be in Pot Two when the draw for the Euro 2024 qualifying stages is made in Frankfurt next month.

They have also won promotion to the A League and will join the likes of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain in the elite groups of the competition in 2024.

Clarke, whose preparations were further complicated by a sickness big which swept through his squad last week, admitted he was proud of his side’s display.

"It is a big night," he said. "We wanted to win the section. We wanted to show people what happened in the summer (losing to Ukraine and the Republic of Ireland in the Qatar 2022 play-off semi-final and Nations League respectively) wasn’t us.

"We wanted to be better this week. We pressed the big button to re-set and go again and we came up with three fantastic performances, all different, but all vital.

"I don’t think we expected anything else to be honest. Ukraine are a very, very good team. We knew we would have moments in the game. We knew there would be moments when we asked Craig (goalkeeper Gordon) to make big saves and he did that as he always does.

"Porteous was outstanding for a debut. I am so pleased for the boy. It shows that he listens, it shows that  he learns.  But also really pleased for Jack Hendry. It was a big ask for Jack.

"Everyone expects Callum McGregor to play three games in a short space of time at that intensity, everyone expects John McGinn to do that. I had to ask Jack to do that as well again.

"He was struggling a bit with a cold, but his performance was outstanding, like it was in all three games. Nice to get a clean sheet again. It makes me happy as a coach.

"Maybe I over-egged the illness bit a wee bit just to galvanise us going into the game. The illnesses were there. What I was mindful of was if someone had woken up this morning with the same bug then they probably wouldn’t have played tonight.

"In terms of moving on, I spoke about it earlier. I sat down with my whole staff and said we had to set a different environment and be more demanding of the players and we have to push that agenda and then I sat with the players and went through what we thought we did well in the summer and what we didn’t do so well.

"We gave them a lot of information to chance the system and play a slightly different way. They took it on board and we have had a really good week.

“Now we are in Pot Two and in the A League – but we don’t want to stop. We want to try and get better and better.”

Clarke's current deal with the SFA expires before Scotland join Europe's elite countries in the A League of the Nations League. "My contract is up before the next one," he joked. "I'm just mentioning it!"

Clarke added: “I’ve always said these players want to do really well for their country, they show that every time. At times it doesn’t work for us but they are always determined to do well. We went to Serbia and we got the result in the play-off to take us to our first major finals in such a long time.

“We then had a really good group campaign in the World Cup and we came up just short in the play-off. We had the European Championships where were took it to the last game and came up short in the last game.

“We have done it again tonight, we have taken this campaign to the last game. I asked the players to take the next step to show everybody we are improving.

"I didn’t use the words glorious failure, but I said let’s make sure we take the next step because then we will feel good about ourselves.

"The supporters tonight were magnificent. They can go away feeling great. The connection between the supporters and the players is fantastic. That’s what we are working towards."

“Now we have reached Pot Two, now we are in the A group of the Nations League and we don’t want to stop. We want to keep getting better.”

Ukraine manager Oleksandr Petrakov, whose team would have topped the group if they had won, felt that a goal was all that was lacking from his team’s performance.

“I am satisfied with my players performance, but at the end of the 90 minutes they failed to score, and that is all that matters,” he said.