Steve Clarke will challenge his Scotland players to summon up the Spirit of Serbia for tomorrow’s Euros opener against the Czech Republic.
With the top two qualifying from each group – plus the four best third–placed finishers in the six sections – the national coach knows the country has never had a better chance to advance to the knock-out stages of a major competition.
However, with England and Croatia to be faced next in Group D, he is anxious his side waste no time in making their mark on the tournament.
Clarke admitted: “I’ll be very proud walking out on Monday. And, of course, there will be emotion – but I hope you don’t see that side of it!
“It’s a big occasion after 23 years. We have waited so long.
“Now we are finally here, we want the players to go in and attack the tournament – have a right go at it.
“There is a sense of excitement and anticipation, and I want them to go with that emotion into the game. But they also have to play the game properly and do well.
“We have to get the result we require, the one that helps us get out of the group.
“We have grown as a squad. That’s why we are here.
“And the most pleasing thing for me was that the best we have played was in the biggest game – in Serbia in the Play-off Final.
“During the game in Belgrade, we showed two sides. First our quality. And then, when we got the kick in the teeth in the last minute, we showed our grit and determination to get through extra-time.
“To get it to penalties, and get the qualification. That’s the big thing for me about the evolution.
“When they had to produce in that game, they produced.
“The Finals are a challenge – but we have shown we can produce.”
The searching task now facing Clarke is to pick the line-up and formation that will give the Dark Blues the best chance to succeed.
With more genuine options available to him in all areas of the pitch than any other Scotland manager has enjoyed in recent memory, it is a conundrum that has provided fans with lots of enjoyable speculation.
Nathan Patterson or Stephen O’Donnell at right-back? Does the startling talent of Billy Gilmour make it impossible to leave out the little midfielder? And has Liam Cooper done enough to earn himself a slot in the back three?
After much deliberation, the Scotland manager believes he has settled on the answers – bar one.
And given tomorrow’s 2pm kick-off, he will have to break from routine in his preparations for the usual evening kick-off.
“I’ve picked my team, except for one position. However, I’m pretty sure which way I’ll go with it,” he revealed.
“The players won’t know until the day of the game. But the more perceptive ones might work it out.
“The way I’ve normally worked is that I tell them in the morning. That gives them the afternoon to rest in their rooms, and prepare mentally for it.
“For the ones who aren’t selected, they prepare to be ready to be part of the squad, so that everyone is together when we hit the dressing room.
“That’s worked quite well for us so far, so I don’t see any reason to deviate from that.
“The hardest part is picking the three who don’t make the bench.
“I try to explain to them that it is easy picking the XI. Then I have to pick a bench.
“The ones who are disappointed to be subs have to realise that there are three sitting in the stand.
“Those guys are the ones I feel more sorry for. But I explained that right at the start of this process.”
What Clarke is certain about is the lift whichever team he puts out will get from the return of supporters to the National Stadium.
“The fans will be fantastic,” he said, a smile widening across the 57-year-old’s face in anticipation.
“I cannot wait to hear noise inside Hampden again because it’s been a long time.
“We had a game in Israel with just 5,000 in there, and the atmosphere was good.
“We played Holland last week in an empty stadium in the Algarve. But then against Luxembourg, with just 1,000 people inside the ground, made a big difference.
“There will only be 12,500 on Monday, but the Tartan Army who are in there will make themselves heard, I’m sure.”
Of that there is no doubt.
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