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Euros: Scotland's top five wins under Steve Clarke

In anticipation of Scotland competing in their second successive Euros finals in Germany, we take a look back at Steve Clarke's best wins since taking charge of his country in May 2019.

At the time of Steve Clarke's appointment as Scotland manager in 2019, the national team had failed to qualify for a major international tournament in 21 years, dating back to the Scots' participation in the 1998 World Cup finals in France.

Over the intervening two decades an air of despondency and ridicule had descended over the Scotland national team, amidst an era of 'glorious failure' in which Scots sides were perpetually unable to get over the line in qualification campaigns.

In the form of ex-West Brom and Kilmarnock boss Clarke, Scotland had finally stumbled upon a leader capable of delivering the nation back to better days, with the Ayrshireman successfully guiding his country to two consecutive Euros finals appearances over his four year tenure to date.

Let's take a look back on five of Clarke's standout wins as Scotland manager so far:

5) Scotland 3-0 Ukraine - Sep 2022

After a grim summer for Scotland in which the national team had succumbed to a disappointing 3-1 loss to Ukraine in a World Cup play-off semi-final at Hampden and been humbled 3-0 by a poor Republic of Ireland side on Nations League duty in Dublin, Steve Clarke had reached a difficult juncture in his tenure as manager.

The subsequent international window in September 2022 saw the Scots seek revenge against a Ukraine side who had crushed their World Cup dreams just a matter of months previously, this time in the Nations League.

Seemingly desperate to exorcise the demons from what was an exceptionally flat performance in the summer, with an inspired Ukraine side dominating that crunch encounter, Scotland looked a completely different outfit in this rematch albeit in less important circumstances.

The outcome of the two games could not have been more different, with a dynamic Scotland side overwhelming their Ukrainian counterparts on the night, with a trademark John McGinn goal and a brace from Lyndon Dykes from the bench sealing an emphatic 3-0 win for the home side to elevate Clarke's charges to the top of their Nations League group, which they duly went on to win.

With 24 shots to Ukraine's three, and seven corners to the visitors' none, this Nations League victory at Hampden undoubtedly goes down as one of Scotland's mot complete performances under Clarke against a considerable level of opposition.
 

4) Scotland 2-0 Denmark - Nov 2021

Following a disappointing showing at Euro 2020, with a commendable draw against fierce rivals England at Wembley sandwiched between feeble defeats against the Czech Republic and Croatia at Hampden, Steve Clarke's Scotland had up until November 2021 failed to display an ability to compete with real top level opposition.

This all changed when Denmark. semi-finalists at the Euros and a Pot 1 UEFA nation, visited Hampden for their final World Cup Qualifier seeking to preserve their 100% record in the group on the back of nine consecutive victories.

Scotland, themselves already assured of a play-off place for the World Cup after a 2-0 away win in Moldova sealed second place in the section, took the game to Kasper Hjulmand's side and put them on the back foot from the off.

Roared on by a packed Hampden crowd, Scotland made the breakthrough in the 35th minute in what was a poignant moment for defender John Souttar, who headed home a knockdown from Liam Cooper from a corner to score on his first appearance for his country in three years following extended injury problems.

Buoyed by taking the lead, an inspired Scots side continued to unnerve the Danes who struggled to cope with the intensity and dynamism of Steve Clarke's troops.

As the visitors pushed to grab a late equaliser and retain an undefeated, if not perfect, qualification record, the Scots hit them with a sucker punch with a beautifully constructed counter-attacking move seeing Southampton pair Stuart Armstrong and Che Adams combine, with the latter sliding past Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel with aplomb.

This stunning triumph saw Scotland secure a seeded spot for the World Cup play-offs and therefore home advantage in the semi-finals, eventually handed an awkward draw against Ukraine.
 

3) Norway 1-2 Scotland - Jun 2023

After a superb start to their Euro 2024 Qualifying campaign, Steve Clarke's Scotland sat top of Group A as they travelled to Oslo to face a Norway team who had began their campaign in comparatively wobbly fashion despite the presence of Manchester City striking sensation Erling Haaland within their ranks.

It seemed quickly apparent that Scotland would be content with a point at the Ullevaal Stadion, with an uneventful first half quickly passing by with very little goalmouth action as Clarke's side maintained a compact defensive shape out of possession.

If such pragmatism was indeed the Scotland manager's game plan, Clarke was forced to urgently turn to plan B shortly after the hour mark when Haaland put Norway a goal ahead from the spot after Ryan Porteous had been penalised for pulling the Man City hitman's shirt inside the box.

Forced to chase the game in order to come away with a positive result, the Scots spent the next 25 minutes or so huffing and puffing as the Norwegian backline stood resolute.

The final five minutes of the contest saw Scotland complete the most remarkable of turnarounds to take a huge step towards achieving qualification for the Euros, and in turn throw the hosts' hopes into tatters.

It was Tartan Army cult hero Lyndon Dykes who was able to level the score in the 87th minute, capitalising on a defensive error from Napoli centre-back Leo Ostigard to slide the ball into the back of Orjan Nyland's net.

Almost straight from the subsequent restart the Scots struck again, with the Australian-born Dykes this time turning provider in an an inspired breakaway goal - laying the ball off for Norwich City midfielder Kenny McLean to expertly sweep the ball into the bottom corner with his weaker right foot to complete a sensational comeback.
 

2) Scotland 2-0 Spain - Mar 2023

On the back of a comfortable 3-0 win to kickstart their Euro 2024 Qualifying campaign against Cyprus at Hampden, with a goal from John McGinn and a brace from substitute Scott McTominay enough to see the Scots take away all three points, Steve Clarke's men headed into a meeting with top seeds Spain in their second group match with a quiet sense of confidence.

Spain manager Luis de la Fuente, preparing to preside over just his second match in charge since replacing Luis Enrique following the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, elected to make eight changes from the team which had beaten Norway 3-0 in Malaga just three days previously.

The former Spain youth team boss may have lived to regret this approach, with his side succumbing under a wave of Scottish pressure in a cauldron-like atmosphere in Mount Florida.

With confidence clearly pulsing through his veins following a two-goal cameo against Cyprus three days before, Scotland's lion rampant Scott McTominay fired his country in front after just seven minutes following some dogged work from skipper Andy Robertson down the left flank.

Although the Spaniards continued to dominate the ball in typical fashion, accruing 75% possession throughout the contest, and creating a number of presentable opportunities, they were unable to find a way past Angus Gunn in Scotland's goal.

Seeking to play on the counter and capitalise on any Spanish lapses in concentration, Scotland were able to double their advantage just six minutes after the restart in the second half, with McTominay making it four goals in two games with a rasping drive from the edge of the box after Kieran Tierney had burned Real Madrid's Dani Carvajal down the Scots' left-hand side.

Determined not to let a two-goal lead slip, Scotland dug in and maintained their defensive discipline and composure to see out a first triumph over Spain in 39 years, and leapfrog the three-time European champions into top spot in Qualifying Group A in the process.
 

1) Serbia 1-1 Scotland (4-5 pens) - Nov 2020

When appointed as Scotland manager in mid-2019, Steve Clarke took on what appeared to most a heavy burden of becoming the first manager in over 20 years to steer the national team to a major finals.

A total of eight permanent managers had tried and failed to successfully guide Scotland to a major tournament between the 1998 World Cup in France and the 2020 Euros to be held across the continent, including the likes of Berti Vogts, Walter Smith, Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan.

It was actually Clarke's predecessor McLeish who had helped set up a promising opportunity for Scotland to qualify for Euro 2020 through the back door, with the Scots topping their 2018-19 Nations League section ahead of Israel and Albania to earn a play-off place.

This meant that after Clarke had failed to guide Scotland above Russia and Belgium in their initial Euros Qualifying group, they had a safety net of a play-off spot to fall back on.

Surpassing familiar foes Israel on penalties in the play-off semi-finals following a nervy 120 minutes of action without a goal, Clarke's side set up a do-or-die encounter with Serbia in Belgrade for a place at the Euros.

Renowned as one of the most hostile venues in all of Europe, Red Star Belgrade's 53,000 capacity Rajko Mitic Stadium was silent for the final amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with Scotland spared from the prospect of entering the lion's den in search of a dream ticket to the Euros.

Undeniably the underdogs heading into the match against a Serbian side featuring the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Dusan Tadic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Clarke is on record to have advised his squad to 'play with the anticipation of success rather than the fear of failure'.

This message must have resonated with his players, with Scotland passing the ball with poise and composure whilst maintaining a rigid defensive shape off the ball which their Serbian hosts struggled to breach.

The longer the game progressed without a breakthrough the Scots appeared to grow in confidence, and the away side were able to get their noses in front in the 52nd minute after some neat play between Celtic pair Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie ended with the latter slotting the ball past Serbia keeper Predrag Rajkovic and in off the post.

Proceeding to hold onto their slender lead in admirable fashion, the Scots appeared on the brink of finally ending their long qualification hoodoo, before disaster struck in the 90th minute, as Serbian striker Luka Jovic headed home from a corner to level the tie and strike a dagger in Scottish hearts.

In what seemed destined to result in yet another episode of glorious failure and case of 'so close and yet so far' for Scotland's perennial nearly men, this Steve Clarke team had other ideas, with one man in particular ending the night as a national hero.

Battling their way through an intense half an hour of extra time, Scotland's fate was to be determined by a penalty shootout.

Arise David Marshall, with the former understudy to both Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor seizing his big moment to save the decisive spot kick from Mitrovic to seal a 5-4 victory for his side and finally send his nation to the promised land of the Euros.
 

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