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Charlie Mulgrew: Even a depleted Tartan Army could make all the difference against Israel

© SNS GroupCharlie Mulgrew has been impressed by Steve Clarke since he became Scotland manager
Charlie Mulgrew has been impressed by Steve Clarke since he became Scotland manager

Charlie Mulgrew is hoping that Israel’s second visit to Hampden this season will be very different from the first.

In midweek, UEFA announced that Scotland’s opening Nations League tie against the Israelis on Friday September 4 will be played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The two countries will clash again in Mount Florida on Thursday October 8 with a place in the Euro 2020 Play-off Final against either Norway or Serbia at stake.

Mulgrew, who now has 44 caps, is praying that will be an entirely different scenario to next month’s meeting.

“One thing we will all be hoping for is that the Scotland fans are allowed into Hampden for the play-off,” said the 34-year-old Blackburn Rovers defender.

“When the Tartan Army gets behind us, you can feel Hampden rocking. They really are the 12th man for the team.

“Not to have 50,000 of them at the game would be a blow.

“We’ll see how the country is shaping up at the time, and hopefully the guidelines will allow it.

“Even if we could get some of them in, it would be of great benefit.”

Mulgrew has been involved with the national team for eight years, and has missed out on three major tournaments in that period.

He feels the chance to qualify for next summer’s European Championships is his best opportunity yet – but he refuses to take anything for granted, especially given the unusual circumstances at present.

“It’s obviously been a strange time for the past five or six months, and normally by now our season would be well under way,” said Mulgrew.

“But the English Championship sides are in pre-season just now. Our campaign doesn’t start until September.

“It means many of the players in the Scotland squad won’t have played competitive football before we play Israel at Hampden.

“But other countries will be in the same boat. It’s not ideal, but we will get on with it.

“The lads will be in good shape, and the hunger and appetite to succeed for our country will always give you that extra wee percentage when you take the field.

“I don’t want to look too far ahead, and at this stage of my career, I genuinely take one game at a time.

“It’s only natural, however, that your mind wanders a wee bit towards the Euro play-offs.

“We have got ourselves in a good position. We’ve all worked hard to get there.

“I’ve been a part of one or two close calls, but this time we are as close as we’ve ever been.

“However, there still has to be caution and we should not think that the job is done.

“Israel will not be easy, and if we do get past that one then we face an almighty task away from home from the winner of the other tie.

“We’d all love to be the first group of players to qualify for a major Finals for the first time since 1998, but we have such a long way to go.

“Games of football are never easy to win, especially at international level.

“But we will give it everything we have, and there will be belief that we can achieve it.

The situation off the park is up in the air just now, but on the park it’s looking good.

With Andy Robertson on the back of a sensational season at Liverpool, and others such as John McGinn, Kieran Tierney, Scott McTominay and Oli McBurnie stamping their authority on the English Premier League, it’s heading in the right direction.

Mulgrew, who has 44 caps, is also a huge fan of manager, Steve Clarke, and said: “We have some really good players, there is no doubt about that.

“As a Scotsman, and as their international team-mate, it makes you proud to see the guys doing so well at the highest level in England.

“Andy has just won the Premier League with Liverpool and also the Champions League last year.

“You have to go back to Darren Fletcher, and Paul Lambert before him, to find a Scotsman with that medal in his locker.

“I then see John McGinn doing very, very well for Aston Villa. The same goes for Scott McTominay at Manchester United and Oli McBurnie at Sheffield United.

“Kieran Tierney looks every inch the part at Arsenal.

“He was brilliant for them after the lockdown period and played a massive part in their FA Cup success.

“With all of that, and the Scottish Premiership up and running, the manager will be delighted.

“He will be itching to get the squad together and start working with the lads.

“It’s been a long, long wait and the past eight or nine months must have been incredibly frustrating for him.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to work under some top coaches and managers in my career and Steve is right up there. His CV is first-class and he is right man for the job.

“He knows the game inside out, his training sessions are excellent, and when you take the field for a game, you know exactly what your job is and what he wants from you.

“We just hope that we can pull every positive together to move us in the right direction and towards the ultimate goal

“We are all determined to do it and it would be sensational if we could pull it off.”