And it is equally understandable that when they do so and focus on Norway in Oslo on June 17, goalscoring phenomenon Erling Haaland takes up residence in their craniums. To become a potential bogey man, the anointed Manchester City striker perceived as a spectre to haunt their nation’s path to a first overseas major finals for 26 years. Punters can think that way, but Clarke’s players cannot. Even if the Norwegians’ one point from their opening Group A double-header – two away games contested without an injured Haaland – means they dare not lose to Clarke’s team. In that scenario, a full-points boasting Scotland regarded as their principal rivals for the second qualifying berth would be virtually out of reach for them.
Callum McGregor doesn’t downplay the importance of shackling Haaland to build on the back-to-back Hampden successes. He could hardly do so when the 22-year-old’s outrageous net-bulging exploits have claimed him 42 goals at club level this season. And account for him finding the target 21 times in only 23 full caps for his country. Obsessing over the rampaging forward is for the fans, though. “He is obviously sensational,” said the Celtic captain. “He is breaking all sorts of records in the Premier League. It feels like every time he plays he scores a hat-trick. So when we play him we will have to be really aware of him, try to pick him up in the box, obviously, try to deny him space and try to deny him as many touches as possible. We will have a game plan for him. We will do the video stuff. The guys behind the scene will put that together but it is important we don’t just focus on one player because there will be 10 others who are all good players. If you just fixate on one, then someone else might hit you. We are a good nation, we are making good strides and I think when the game comes around they will be worried about playing us as well.”
It might not be putting too fine a point on it to say the Scandinavians will be in fret central over the match-up when defeat could have such grave consequences for their qualifying hopes with Scotland hosting Georgia three days later. Norway’s perilous situation is owed in no small part to an unexpected 1-1 draw in Batumi as Scotland skewered Spain on Tuesday evening. “That will hump a bit of pressure onto them,” said the 29-year-old, who became a Scotland hall of famer in moving on to 51 caps in the course of the past international window. “Again for us, we can only really focus on ourselves. The next two games are really important in the group so we will come up with a game plan and try and take something from them. If we go there and get a positive result it will stand us in really good stead for the rest of the campaign.”