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Steve Clarke has warned his Scotland players they must secure at least a draw from the meeting with England at Wembley to keep alive hopes of reaching the European Championship’s last 16.
Clarke has set Scotland a target of four points from their two remaining Group D matches to qualify for the knockout stage of a major tournament for the first time. His team opened their Euro 2020 campaign with a disappointing 2-0 defeat against the Czech Republic.
Asked whether he had paid attention to the other group standings, with four from six third-placed teams progressing, Clarke said: “No, I’m only focused on ourselves. We need four points from the last two games and obviously we have to get something from the game tomorrow. That’s the sole focus.”
Pressed on whether it was realistic for Scotland to target four points – they play Croatia at Hampden Park on Tuesday – Clarke replied: “Of course. Why not?”
Scotland’s preparations for a rare competitive meeting with England have been boosted by the return to fitness of Kieran Tierney. The Arsenal defender missed the Czech match with a calf problem.
“He’s fit and available to play,” Clarke said. “He trained fully yesterday and today. Obviously something could happen overnight but we don’t expect that and we expect Kieran to be in the starting lineup. It’s good for Kieran, it’s good for everybody. You want all your players available and that’s what we’ve got.”
A noticeably calm Clarke played down any sense of English overconfidence, which typically fuels Scottish attitudes before this fixture. “I’ve got 100% respect for Gareth [Southgate], his staff and his players,” Clarke said. “They are good people. Gareth and Stevie Holland I know well.
“We respect every opponent and we go out and do our best against them and that will be the same here. Whatever outside influences on both sides of the border say, we can only concentrate on ourselves. Everybody knows the magnitude of the fixture.”
Clarke has bittersweet memories of at least one Scotland trip to Wembley. He believed he was due to play in the Rous Cup fixture in 1987 before fate intervened. “I twisted my ankle in training before the game,” he said. “I was pretty sure I was going to start. I would need to check with Andy Roxburgh but I was pretty sure I was in from the start going by the way we’d be shaping up. Put it this way, everything we were shown in training suggested I was going to start.
“But I just twisted my ankle. I guess the Hampden pitch wasn’t as good in those days as it is now because I just went over on it with no one near me. So that was me. I sat on the bench, all strapped up instead of playing against England. That was a painful one.”
Speaking to the Guardian before the tournament, Clarke sought to apply proper context to the occasionally bitter rivalry between Scotland and England by pointing out his sons were born in England. Clarke has spent the majority of his adult and working life there. He has revealed those comments triggered good-natured family friction.
“I said in an interview the other week that my two boys were English; wow, that was a mistake!” Clarke said. “My eldest, John, was straight on the phone to me after he read that and said: ‘We’re not English, it’s just where we were born.’ He made the point that they’ve got a Scottish mum and a Scottish dad, that they’ve all got Scottish blood. So I need to clear that one up. Let me get it right, my kids are Scottish.
“They’ll all be at Wembley on Friday night along with my grandkids and wife. They’re looking forward it. They can’t wait. It’ll be a great occasion.”