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Danny Stewart: In no time at all, Steve Clarke now has a post-Euros headache

© SNS GroupScotland boss Steve Clarke
Scotland boss Steve Clarke

Football’s conveyor belt will keep turning on Tuesday, with the announcement of Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Competitions coming hard on the heels of one another is a reality of life as the sporting calendar attempts to deal with the backlog caused by the pandemic.

So, with what feels a little like undue haste after Euro 2020, the country will return to its bid make the cut for Qatar next year, just a little over seven weeks since Italy beat England on penalties at Wembley.

There are three games to be played in the space of six days, with the visit of Moldova to Hampden on Saturday week sandwiched between trips to Denmark on September 1, and Austria six days later.

Fillings are often the best bit of the sandwich and, on the evidence of what we witnessed in the Euros, that could well be the case here.

Hit by Christian Eriksen’s shock cardiac arrest in their opening game, the Danes were terrific thereafter, with their spirit winning them a place in the semi-finals and worldwide praise.

Austria crashed out at the Round of 16, but their impressive display in defeat to the eventual winners of the tournament will not have been missed by Clarke and his coaches.

There is some recent form to go on. Scotland drew 2-2 with Austria at Hampden Park in March in the qualifying campaign opener.

With 10 minutes to go, a defeat was on the cards. But John McGinn had other ideas and grabbed an equaliser with a sensational overhead kick.

Who will be in the squad?

Things can change very quickly in football, of course.

Who, for example, could have imagined back then that when the campaign restarted, the Tartan Army would find themselves wishing Kyogo Furuhashi had been born in Nairn, not Nara.

If nothing else, the sensational start the Japanese has made with Celtic has been a reminder to Clarke of the impact a new face can make on a squad.

Of more interest to the Scotland coach will be the effect he has had on those around him, with Ryan Christie clearly energised by his team-mate’s intelligent movement and tireless work ethic.

Although the Hoops midfielder played at the Euros, he was under-used.

Given a start in the opener against the Czech Republic, he was withdrawn to the substitutes’ bench at half-time, where he remained for the rest of the tournament.

What price too a wild-card call up for Anthony Ralston?

The feel-good story to Furuhashi’s headline-grabbing act, the 22-year-old has been a revelation since the arrival of Ange Postecoglou at Celtic Park.

Anthony Ralston in action against AZ Alkmaar © SNS Group
Anthony Ralston in action against AZ Alkmaar (Pic: Craig Foy / SNS Group)

A player who has been farmed out for three successive loans – to Queen’s Park, Dundee United and St Johnstone the Bellshill-born full-back spent last season watching from the sidelines.

This year, in what has been a problem position for Clarke, he has been a revelation, with pundits tipping him for cult status among the support.

His they-shall-not-pass display in last Wednesday’s game against AZ Alkmaar drew high praise, with one fan sufficiently moved to use one of Jock Stein’s great quotes: “We must play as if there are no more games, no more tomorrows”.

The sting in the tale is that, for Ralston, that might actually be close to the truth.

Croatian right-back Josip Juranovic has been brought in from Legia Warsaw for a fee of £2.5-million, and can reasonably be expected to be challenging for the jersey straight away.

Big decisions

Players not getting game-time at their clubs is a recurring issue international bosses have to deal with, and here David Marshall’s woes at Derby County are a serious headache.

Rams manager Wayne Rooney has stated that Marshall – the penalty-kick hero in Serbia when Scotland qualified for a major Finals for the first time in 23 years – is now his third-choice keeper, and therefore unlikely to see much action.

Craig Gordon’s return to regular top-flight appearances with Hearts make him an obvious choice to take his international place.

David Marshall’s woes against the Czech Republic were an enduring image of Euro 2020 © Andy Buchanan/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutt
David Marshall’s woes against the Czech Republic were an enduring image of Euro 2020

With Jon McLaughlin used sparingly by Rangers, there is a persuasive argument for calling up either St Johnstone’s Zander Clark, or Liam Kelly of Motherwell.

The real challenge for Clarke, though, is ensuring his players banish memories of the summer’s mediocre performances against the Czechs and Croats, and focus on the stirring display produced at Wembley.

With that attitude – and the likes of Billy Gilmour, Scott McTominay and Kieran Tierney all available – Scotland may just stick around long enough to prove their last qualification was not the exception to the rule, but part of the new normal.