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GARY KEOWN: Let’s place our trust in Clarke and buy into his belief that this talented Scotland squad can create a slice of history we will cherish for ever



TRUE, the momentum isn’t quite what it was when we were bullying Spain into submission at Hampden and producing the greatest comeback since Lazarus to beat Norway with two goals in one minute and 44 seconds at the death. How could it be?

Possibly the only way to top the feeling that came from Kenny McLean moving onto Lyndon Dykes’ lay-off and sending that sidefooted effort curling in at the far post in Oslo last June is to actually go on and win this blooming thing, starting in Germany on Friday night.

However, Scotland manager Steve Clarke is right to demand that negativity, perhaps as popular a pastime as football in this windswept outpost in which you’re still putting the fire on in the middle of the summer, is not allowed to envelop the country’s first appearance at a proper, overseas, grounds-packed-to-the-gunwales international tournament for 26 years.

He’s right to request that the Negative Normans, as he puts it, keep it schtum as his 26-man squad fly out to their pre-tournament base today. Because there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful — and optimistic — heading into Friday night’s barnstormer of an opener to Euro 2024 against hosts Germany in the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Still plenty of reasons to buy into Clarke’s assertion, made after that rather anti-climactic 2-2 draw with Finland at the national stadium on Friday night, that something special can happen. And no reason to give up on the hope that this talented collection of individuals can create history by taking Scotland to the knockout stage of a major finals for the first time ever and then taking it from there.

‘Let’s look forward to the tournament, go there with a little bit of swagger and see what we can do,’ said Clarke after the game. ‘The feeling within the dressing room is that we are going to go there and be as competitive as we can be. If we play as well as we can, we believe the results will come.’

Clarke gets in the spirit as thoughts turn to the upcoming Euro 2024 opener against Germany

Clarke hails his caption Andy Robertson as Scotland completed their uninspiring send-off

Clarke hails his caption Andy Robertson as Scotland completed their uninspiring send-off

Robertson was walking with giants at Blair Drummond... and will do so again in Germany

Robertson was walking with giants at Blair Drummond… and will do so again in Germany

And there is absolutely no question of that. The evidence is there. That 2-0 win over the Spanish in March of last year was one of the great Hampden nights.

The team stormed out of the traps, were physical, imposing, relentless. They knocked their more illustrious opponents off-balance from the start and never allowed them to regain their composure. More of this up-and-at-’em chutzpah will be essential over the next few weeks.

Norway was Norway. A pretty grim display, all round, if we are being perfectly honest, but a prime example of never-say-die spirit. And what can happen when you just don’t give up.

In Seville against the Spanish in October, the team showed itself capable of hanging in there in difficult circumstances away from home, staying competitive.

Scott McTominay, of course, had a goal from a free-kick disallowed in controversial circumstances with the game goalless. Then, after Alvaro Morata had put the hosts in front, Stuart Armstrong had a great chance to make it 1-1 with seven minutes left, putting the ball over the bar from six yards before Aaron Hickey slipped, Joselu slid the ball into the middle and Ryan Porteous turned it into his own net to put the tin lid on things.

Even in losing 4-0 to the Netherlands in March, strange as it sounds, there were real signs of what this squad is capable of. Yes, the game ended in something of a rout with the Dutch scoring three times in the last 20 minutes, but Scotland were brilliant for the first hour or so. Really brilliant.

Kieran Tierney's outrageous block from Finland's Terho summed up his importance to Scots

Kieran Tierney’s outrageous block from Finland’s Terho summed up his importance to Scots

Billy Gilmour showed he has the ability to control a game and its tempo against top-class opposition. He dovetailed beautifully in midfield with McTominay. Lawrence Shankland missed a golden chance to make it 1-1 just after the hour mark and Ryan Christie passed up a couple of opportunities from headers.

Eventually, the roof did fall in, but it was a peculiar outing. With plenty of positives.

Clarke made the decision, when selecting friendlies, to chuck his side in against strong opposition to prepare them for what now waits in Germany. England strolled to a 3-1 win over us in the game to celebrate 150 years of the Auld Enemy. France took us apart 4-1 in Lille, although Clarke did switch up his team considerably.

Maybe these games did disrupt things a little. Maybe a different approach could have been adopted. Certainly, there hasn’t been much to write home about in recent friendlies against Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and the Finns.

However, the truth is this. The nucleus of the team that cruised to ridiculously early qualification is still there. And thanks to the peculiarities of the European Championship finals as they now are, you don’t exactly need to rampage through the tournament like a bull in a china shop to make it past the group stage.

Billy Gilmour is integral to Scotland's hopes of controlling the midfield battle in any game

Billy Gilmour is integral to Scotland’s hopes of controlling the midfield battle in any game

In the last tournament, one win was enough to get Ukraine through to the last 16 as a third-placed team. In Euro 2016, one win did the job for Northern Ireland and Portugal.

Group A is going to be tough, no doubt. Germany are hosts and, for all their problems and underwhelming performances of late, taking anything from them will be a bonus.

Hungary do boast their best team in years. They have an outstanding player in Liverpool’s Dominik Szoboszlai, which pretty much everything revolves around.

They play attacking football under head coach Marco Rossi and went through their qualifying section unbeaten, winning five games and drawing three. In the last Nations League, they beat Germany and England.

Yet, you look through their squad and there is nothing to be scared of. There is solid Bundesliga experience, for sure. But, with that, come regular performers turning out for the likes of Omonia Nicosia, Ferencvaros, Le Havre and Spezia.

Che Adams has proved without doubt he is Scotland's most accomplished finisher

Che Adams has proved without doubt he is Scotland’s most accomplished finisher

As for Switzerland, they are definitely there to be taken on. Their qualifying campaign was racked with problems, particularly when Granit Xhaka, excellent with Bayer Leverkusen in the season just gone, criticised coach Murat Yakin. They scraped through a weak group in second spot.

Until this week’s friendly double-header, in which they played host to Estonia and Austria, they had won only one of their last nine matches — against Andorra.

Much has been made of Scotland’s build-up too. Losing Aaron Hickey and Nathan Patterson to injury was a blow. Right wing-back is a worry with no obvious solution. Lewis Ferguson, Lyndon Dykes and Ben Doak have bitten the dust too, and there remain fitness concerns over the likes of McTominay, Armstrong and Grant Hanley.

But the truth is this. Outwith Hickey, all Scotland’s first-pick players are there. Dykes would have offered a different option up front, no doubt, but he did not have a good season at QPR, with Che Adams surely the man to lead the line.

Andy Robertson showed his strength at left wing-back against Finland and there are all sorts of options in midfield with McTominay, whose natural fitness and athleticism will see him through, aided and abetted by the likes of Gilmour, Callum McGregor, John McGinn and Ryan Christie.

The Tartan Army would dearly love to see this John McGinn celebration dusted off in Germany

The Tartan Army would dearly love to see this John McGinn celebration dusted off in Germany

Angus Gunn has generally been fine in goal and Kieran Tierney is a tiger in defence. Yes, the identities of the two other centre-backs to play beside him is unclear and none of them inspire huge confidence, but it has always been thus. Or at least it has been throughout the whole of Clarke’s reign.

Maybe the national coach is trying to build some kind of siege mentality. Maybe he’s grabbing onto this negativity as a way to motivate his players, to inspire them to prove people wrong.

Who knows? Let’s place our trust in him, though. Let’s accede to his demands for a bit of swagger.

Scotland are back in a major tournament that is going to be the real deal unlike the Covid-scarred Euro 2020 — with tens of thousands of punters rolling around Germany, making memories to last a lifetime, and pubs and clubs and houses at home all packed with expectant punters.

It is what we’ve waited decades for. So, let’s enjoy it, embrace it, get excited by it.

Let’s gerrintaethum.

Strange time for Mulraney to go on a war footing 

IT MOST certainly raised a chortle during the week when SFA president Mike Mulraney took a pop at Holyrood’s finest as they carry on casting their beady eye over the national game.

Mike Mulraney could be on a collision course with politicians looking for a football regulator

Mike Mulraney could be on a collision course with politicians looking for a football regulator

‘I don’t worry about politicians who call us blazers because I no longer respect them,’ he said. ‘I know they have no knowledge of the environment they’re talking about.

‘They are looking for a cheap headline — or they are intellectually challenged.’

Having sat through the interminable boredom of many of the appearances made by the game’s great and good at the Scottish Parliament, it is difficult to disagree. Some of the questions asked by MSPs are risible. Some of the answers, admittedly, are not that different.

There’s just one problem with Mulraney taking out the blunderbuss and firing off a few shots at those in the chamber.

The Football Governance Bill in Westminster has been halted by the General Election, but all the noises from the EFL’s summer meeting suggest there will be a major drive to have it reintroduced when the votes have been counted on July 4.

You can bet your bottom dollar the idea of an independent regulator for Scottish football, debated by politicians earlier this year, is not going to go away either.

And Mulraney going on a war footing is only going to ramp up the rhetoric when there are so many questions — thanks to the situations of Inverness, Livingston, Edinburgh City, et al — over just how financially sound the game in this country really is. And whether the people currently in charge of the train set should be allowed to stay there.

It’s nice to see good guy Kelly get his reward

IF ever proof was needed that football can be a fickle mistress, it came with the cameo appearance made by Craig Gordon in Scotland’s Friday night draw with Finland.

Cut from the final squad for Euro 2024, he was given the opportunity by national coach Steve Clarke to earn a 75th — and, almost certainly, final — cap for his country and ended up giving away a late penalty to turn a farewell party into a bit of a damp squib.

Liam Kelly is a popular figure amongst the Scotland squad and richly deserves his selection

Liam Kelly is a popular figure amongst the Scotland squad and richly deserves his selection

There’s no room for sentiment in this game, and it felt a strange decision by Clarke to put Gordon on for the last 20 minutes when the likes of Zander Clark or Liam Kelly would surely have benefited more from the game time.

Good luck to Gordon, though. And good luck to Kelly (below), who made the final 26-man panel ahead of him.

The inclusion of Kelly, hotly tipped for a summer return to Rangers, is a surprise, but it says much for the way Clarke runs his squad. The former Motherwell keeper is understood to be a popular figure within the set-up and also brings high standards and a real desire to win.

Yes, sentiment in the brutal arena of professional football counts for little. But it is nice to see that being a good guy and a good team-mate can still bring its rewards.

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