Scotland's Euro 2024 squad hopefuls set their targets as players prepare for Hamburg draw
As the players completed their Hampden lap of honour at the end of a positive qualifying campaign, there was a sense of satisfaction but the T-shirts the players, coaches and staff were wearing, proclaiming ‘We’re Off To Germany’ provided a reminder that there is even more work to be done.
Now that Scotland has secured an invitation to Euro 2024, the players’ focus will be trained on booking their place in the squad, and on building on the performances delivered under Steve Clarke and putting on an even better show when they get to Germany.
A second successive Euros appearance, the display against England at Wembley aside, they failed to put their best foot forward last time out but they hope they can utilise that experience, along with the belief garnered from some stand-out showings against the likes of Spain, at home, and Norway, away, throughout this campaign. They will find out who they are to be grouped with next Saturday but while that will generate excitement, there will be a degree of emotional caution from the men who helped make it happen.
“We have something big to look forward to now,” said midfielder Kenny McLean. “There will be games in March and places in the squad to play for. Everyone now has to work hard at their clubs, stay healthy and keep fit ahead of the summer. But nothing is guaranteed and I’d never take my place for granted.
“I’ll go back to Norwich and do what I always do – that has never been in question. But the [Euros] squad is smaller so the manager has decisions to make. It’s down to the players when they come away to show how much you want to be there – as well as performing well for your club.”
Injury robbed him of a place in the Euro 2020 squad, but having weighed in with some big moments, including vital penalty conversions against Israel and Serbia in the last qualifying run, and the dramatic 89th-minute winner against Norway in June to help the Scots finish above Erling Haaland & Co in Group A and qualify in second spot, he is determined to play his part this summer. But he insists that he and his international squad-mates will not just be there for the experience.
“We all want to represent our country,” continued McLean. “It’s the pinnacle of your career, no-one will tell you otherwise. So to have those moments in big games that have meant something is special but it’s about the team, not what I do individually. The togetherness now compared to when I made my debut in 2017 – nothing against what was going on then – but you can feel it now. It’s a club feel and everyone is desperate to come away. It’s brilliant.
“We deserved to be in the position we were in on Sunday [enjoying the lap of honour after their 3-3 draw with Norway] but we still have to learn from it. We have to be better and win those games, even when you’ve qualified. You can’t step off it. We must improve going into the tournament. The games in March will be used to work on things and improve.”
After decades without involvement at major finals, now that Scotland are back on the big stage, rather than pat themselves on the back, they want to push things further. “We have to be better, 100 percent. The manager will always put demands on us to improve and it will come from within as well. That’s what makes this so special, the fact we’re still striving for more. That will continue no matter where we get to. We don’t set goals of where we want to be because once you get there, where do you go from there?”
Tussling with the likes of Ronaldo on club duty, and Haaland for Scotland, Al-Ettifaq’s Jack Hendry is used to raising his game and, having learned from Euro 2020, when they came up short against the Czech Republic and Croatia but earned praise for the performance against England, the centre-half has seen confidence swell throughout a consistent qualifying campaign this time around, and he believes any squad selected by Clarke will be ready to take on Europe’s best.
“A couple of weeks ago I played against the top goalscorer in European qualification, Ronaldo, and this weekend I’m playing against Benzama,” said Hendry. “So you can see there are top quality strikers in that league and I am sure playing against them will stand me in good stead for the summer. “
And, claiming the scalps of Spain and Norway during these qualifiers has only boosted the squad’s self-belief. “Yeah, all the experiences we’ve had, not just myself,” continued the ex-Celtic and Dundee defender. “We have come out of the group and made it to back-to-back European Championships and now we are in the Nations League A group as well so we are going in the right direction. Hopefully we carry that momentum into the finals.
“It will be full steam ahead for the Euros, learning off the mistakes we made in the previous tournament and trying to make sure we rectify them in Germany. We will obviously have a discussion to see what we need to do better. But having had that experience of playing in the Euros last time will, I’m sure, stand us in good stead.
“When you go on the pitch it is eleven v eleven. Whoever you come up against you have to try and get the better of them, no matter who it is. Obviously I have the greatest respect for Ronaldo who is one of the greatest players who has ever lived, if not the greatest. So to share the pitch with him is very good but when I get on there I want to get the better of him.
“That’s like this Scotland team. We will respect [every opponent] but we want to come out on top. Hopefully we can do that in Germany.”