Steve Clarke urges Scotland to build on Cyprus display in Spain challenge
Steve Clarke wants his Scotland players to build on their encouraging 3-0 win over Cyprus when Spain visit Hampden Park on Tuesday night.
Midfielder John McGinn scored his 16th international goal after 21 minutes of their European Championship qualifying Group A opener at the national stadium, but it was not until second-half substitute Scott McTominay grabbed a late double that the Tartan Army could relax.
Unfancied Cyprus finished the game with 10 men after Nicholas Ioannou was sent off for booting the ball away in frustration to pick up his second yellow card.
It is the first time since 2006 that Scotland have won their opening Euros qualifier and the boss wants to take the positives into what is sure to be a much tougher game against Spain.
“It’s a better start than we’ve had to a European Championship campaign in a long time,” said Clarke, who revealed Che Adams went off with a tight calf and that him recovering in time for Spain would be “optimistic”.
“Against the teams seeded lower than you, it’s important to pick up maximum points at home,” added the manager.
“Cyprus were good and organised but we managed to contain them. There wasn’t much threat on our goal.
“But at 1-0 it’s always nervous. It’s a really good start but we have to try and back it up on Tuesday against the Spanish.
“When you are playing one of the Pot One teams, you have to play as well as we can play. That is what we are aiming to do.
“We will prepare the lads well, we will get them recovered and we will be ready to go again but we have to play as well as we can play.
“We always want to improve. You always want the perfect performance and it’s rare that you get it.
“But you have to look for it all the time. In saying that, if we don’t get it on Tuesday night and still get a result, we’ll come away happy.”
Clarke told his players at half-time not to think that “it was too easy” against the side ranked 110th in the world.
He said: “There were some good things and other bits we need to get better at.
Two goals for Scott McTominay ⚽️⚽️Two assists for @andrewrobertso5 🅰️🅰️#SCOCYPpic.twitter.com/tvF8I2bsPn
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) March 25, 2023
“But overall, it was very pleasing. It’s nice to start the campaign with what looks like a comprehensive home win with a 3-0 scoreline.
“I thought we were really good for half an hour. But then I just felt we got a little bit sloppy and casual.
“I told them at half-time, ‘maybe you feel it’s a bit too easy – but it’s not because the scoreline says it’s not’.
“The second half was about trying to pick up the momentum we had in the first 30. It took us a bit longer to do that than it should.
“You’re always looking for the second goal in a game like that because that will probably be the crucial one.”
On McGinn moving into seventh place in the all-time Scotland scoring charts, Clarke said: “He knows when to arrive in the box and 16 goals is a great return. He also has six assists so it is a big contribution to what we are doing.”
Angus Gunn made his debut in goal, with former Kilmarnock, West Brom and Reading boss Clarke saying: “His handling was clean, his kicking was good.”
Cyprus manager Temuri Ketsbaia had no complaints about the result and while he believes Spain remain favourites to win the group, he also thinks Scotland have as good a chance as Norway or Georgia of finishing second.
The former Georgia player and boss said: “I’d like to congratulate the Scottish team, they won fairly. It was a very nice game.
“Steve Clarke has done a very good job since he has been with the national team.
“He qualified for the Euros. They have good players – just imagine having a Manchester United player on the bench.
“I believe Spain will be the big favourite in the group but the second position is open for the other teams.
“But I am very disappointed with my team. That is football and we need to learn from our mistakes.”