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A spell of motorway mayhem reinforced to Steve Clarke just how much a return to tournament football means to the Scottish people.
Clarke and his players returned north on Sunday afternoon from their Darlington training base before a first finals appearance for the country in 23 years. There is a danger that detail of the game, and what stubborn opposition the Czech Republic will inevitably provide, are lost amid Scottish frenzy. In Glasgow, Euros fever is palpable.
“We can’t wait, to be honest,” Clarke said. “It feels like everyone in the country is excited about the tournament and that’s fantastic. That said, I was a little bit nervous on the drive from the airport to the hotel when we were on the M8 and all the cars were slowing down to toot their horns. They were swerving to avoid each other but thankfully there were no incidents.
“Everyone wanted to wish us well and that’s great. So we’re definitely aware of the magnitude of this game and know what it means to everyone. Like we keep saying, we just want to get to the game, get started and hopefully we can achieve a little bit more. And do the country proud.”
Clarke has been consistent in his belief that Scotland can emerge from Group D. Not that the manager paid any attention to England’s opening victory against Croatia. “All we can control is what we do,” he said. “All I’m interested in is my players and our preparations.” Presumably Clarke will review England’s 1-0 win before Scotland’s Wembley visit on Friday.
Clarke rebuffed the suggestion that Scotland’s wait for this moment, which stretches back to elimination from France 98, adds layers of expectation. “I think when you qualify for the first time in 23 years you probably feel less pressure,” the manager said.
“The country, the Tartan Army, can get excited and carried away. They can get overexcited. For us, we have to be excited to be involved in the tournament for the first time in a while but we have to keep an emotional control so that when we get to the matches we play to our full potential. I believe if we do that, we can get good results. We go into every game trying to win it.”
Clarke reported a fit squad, with his key decisions likely to surround who forms the three-man defence and whether to deploy Lyndon Dykes alongside Che Adams in attack. Should Clarke leave Dykes among his substitutes, Ryan Fraser would be the favourite to play in support of Adams.
Andy Robertson, the Scotland captain, is a certain starter and called on his teammates to seize this moment. “I would like us to have more confidence because we are a right good team on our day,” the Liverpool full-back said. “But we need to show it, we need to perform.
“We are so excited for this, we can feel the nation is excited for this and it’s important we keep that smile on their faces come four o’clock.” Clarke pointed to the big-game experience of Robertson as significant.
Scott McTominay and Billy Gilmour have had recent involvement in European finals. “Big moments are for big players and we believe we have enough big players to handle the occasion,” Clarke said. “We understand big games, big moments. I’ve been around the block a few times myself, having been involved in some big matches, so the players will be properly prepared. That’s physically, mentally and tactically. That’s our job.
“It’s been a long wait. We’ve all waited a long, long time for this moment. So let’s make the most of it. That’ll be the message.”
Jaroslav Silhavy, the Czech coach, feels there will be no lingering resentment attached to this match after the 10-game Uefa ban handed to Ondrej Kudela. The Slavia Prague defender and Czech international was found guilty of racially abusing Rangers’ Glen Kamara during a game in Glasgow in March. Kudela continues to challenge the ban.
“I don’t believe there is any animosity,” Silhavy said. “We don’t feel any animosity against Scotland and I believe everything on the pitch will be fair play.”
Silhavy does think the staging of the game at Hampden in front of 12,000 spectators should boost Scotland. “The home crowd is hungry for football, they haven’t got to the stadium for a long time,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting for them and it’s going to motivate the Scottish team.”
It seems a fair point. In fact, the scale of the blow to national morale should Scotland come unstuck against Silhavy’s team is worthy of consideration.