Grounded Steve Clarke digests Scotland Euro 2024 draw - 'sometimes there's opening night upset' - as Switzerland friendly nixed
True to form, Steve Clarke was maintaining a cool demeanour in Hamburg, where snow had fallen almost constantly for the previous 48 hours. It will be very different conditions in Munich on June 14, when Scotland kick off their latest attempt to qualify for the knock out stage for the first-ever time. Clarke's team then face Switzerland and Hungary to round off their Group A commitments though not, the Tartan Army pray, their tournament involvement. Scotland are at least guaranteed maximum exposure.
The eyes of Europe will be on them, 25 years after the world watched Craig Brown’s side contest the opening match of France 98 against holders Brazil. The Scots lost out narrowly on that occasion. Clarke expressed the hope his team can catch Germany cold in the Allianz Arena. The hosts have played only friendlies for 12 months. There have been past shocks in the first game of tournaments before, including Cameroon beating Argentina at Italia 90 and Senegal overcoming France at the World Cup in Japan and Korea in 2002.
“Sometimes in the opening game of a tournament there can be an upset,” said Clarke said. “Hopefully it will be this time. All the matches in the group will be competitive, it will be tough for us. But we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
The draw was disrupted by what appeared to be shrieks of pleasure more commonly associated with the city’s Reeperbahn area. The Scotland manager provided a stark contrast to these recordings of ecstasy piped into the Elbphilharmonie, on the banks of the River Elbe, in what was believed to be a prank. Clarke has already started the process of ensuring not too much emphasis is placed on a glamour game against the Germans. He knows there are two other games to play afterwards against Switzerland in Cologne and then Hungary in Stuttgart. These clashes are likely to have a bigger bearing on whether Scotland qualify for the knockout stage.
“You know me, I don’t get too excited or get carried away,” said Clarke. “I’ve got to prepare the team properly and we’ll do that. It should be a good occasion against Germany, the hosts, in the opening game. It’s special to be part of. But we have to make sure it’s not about the occasion, it’s about the match. We have to make sure we turn up and play as well as we can against them.”
Clarke was not making any promises about making history. All Saturday night’s draw has brought is clarification. Progressing to the last 16 will hinge on three tests against teams ranked higher than Scotland. “For you guys it seems like getting out of the group is the big thing,” he told reporters. “But for us, it’s just to be competitive. We want to come to Germany and play as well as we can.
“We’ll count our points up at the end and see where it takes us. First of all, I need to go away and do my homework. I need to prepare for these matches. Then we’ll see what happens in the summer. I’ll speak to a few of the players soon and see what their mood is. But they’ll be happy with the draw, they’ll be excited. They’ll look forward to the occasion.”
Being drawn against Switzerland means an idea to play Murat Yakin’s side in a pre-tournament warm-up game has had to be nixed. “We’ve got ideas for some friendly games but there will be one at home and one away in March,” said Clarke. “Before the finals in June, I’d imagine it will be the same.”