In circumstances where the visit of Norway to Hampden Park held meaning, the absence of Erling Haaland would lead to wild celebration within the Scotland camp. Instead, Steve Clarke has expressed his disappointment that the prolific Manchester City striker will miss out through injury as Group A rumbles to a close in Glasgow. As the public sighed, so, too, did Scotland’s management.
A knock to the foot, sustained in the victory over the Faroe Islands on Thursday, means Haaland will sit out the meeting. With the Norwegian Football Federation insisting Haaland’s injury is not serious it seems safe to assume he would have been risked were automatic qualification hopes for Euro 2024 still alive. Scotland and Spain will emerge from this section, meaning Hampden will host something of a victory parade for Clarke and his team.
“In the context of this game, yes of course I wanted Haaland to play,” said the Scotland manager. “It would have been nice for the Scotland fans to see him on the pitch at Hampden. It’s unfortunate that he is injured. If it was competitive, my answer would probably be different.” No wonder; Haaland has 27 goals in 29 Norway appearances.
A capacity crowd will have to make do with John McGinn et al. It is not in Clarke’s makeup to accept adulation on account of successive European Championship qualifications but the 60-year-old has reflected on sharp progress since he took on the role in 2019. A 4-0 trouncing in Russia that year provided Clarke with a wake-up call.
“I just thought, ‘Nah, this is not right,’” he said. “Because we had talent, we are a proud footballing nation. And we had lost that bit of pride about ourselves. We were going into international games not expecting to be competitive.
“You cannot say you can go into international games and win but you have to go to every single international game and be competitive. We were not competitive. We were competitive for 55-60 minutes in Russia and then they scored. And it was finished.
“I was thinking, this is not right. That is when I said within myself I need to change, I need to find a different way. I need to send a different message. And I need to find a group of boys, a group of men, that can take us forward. And that was the start of the process.
“I am not blind to the fact that we have done a good job collectively and everybody feels much better about the national team. But I know football and I know that three or four results that are not quite so good and the whole thing can turn. So never ease off, never slacken off.”
Indeed, Thursday’s draw in Georgia ended a run of three successive defeats for Scotland. The opposition for those losses was stellar – Spain, England and France – but Clarke speaks continually of the next step, whereby his team can hold their own against the best in the world.
Scotland are less fussy about what section they find themselves in for the Euros draw on 2 December. A comprehensive win over Norway could catapult them into pot two, but Clarke appeared totally ambivalent towards the scenario. “I don’t take prestige from that,” he said. “I am just happy we are in the tournament. Whatever draw we get, we will take.
“Nobody knows for sure who will be in which pots. We will play our game, other nations will have their games. Who is going to be in pot two and pot three, I don’t know. I am just happy to be there.”
Clarke reported no fresh injury concerns of his own despite the bruising encounter in Tbilisi. Scotland were already without Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Che Adams and Angus Gunn for this double header.
“The atmosphere at recent home games has been fantastic and that’s a credit to the work that we have all done, myself, the coaching staff and the players,” Clarke said. “We have managed to re-engage with the Scottish public. I think they enjoy watching their national team now, which is good.”