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Nations League: Promotion the reward for improving Scotland

Scotland celebrated promotion to League A of the Nations League with a 0-0 draw against Ukraine on Tuesday evening, meaning they will be dining at the top table when the competition returns in 2024.

(This article was originally published on 28.09.2022)

Steve Clarke's men arrived into the game knowing that they would be guaranteed a place in the top flight of the Nations League if they avoided defeat.

The final Group B1 clash was hardly a classic but the result was enough for Scotland and further highlighted the improvements made under boss Steve Clarke as his side exacted some revenge on Ukraine, who had beaten them in a World Cup play-off earlier in the summer.

The Scots' future aim will be stabilise themselves in League A and also qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany. Scotland are available at 150/1 to win the competition outright.

Clarke makes Scotland hard to beat

In their six Nations League group games, Scotland were only beaten once - a disappointing 3-0 collapse away in the Republic of Ireland.

Defensively, they have been sound since their Euro 2020 exit last summer at the group stage - they kept five clean sheets in a run of six wins in seven World Cup qualification matches following the tournament.

Clarke has clearly put a focus on being tight at the back with the Tartan Army conceding just five goals in six matches in the Nations League.

Calibre of players getting stronger

In some ways, it is no surprise to see Scotland improving as the country's two biggest clubs have also taken strides in Europe of late. Celtic and Rangers are both competing in this year's Champions League group stage after Rangers went all the way to last season's Europa League final.

At the back, Liverpool's Andy Robertson is a Premier League winner while Kieran Tierney is part of an Arsenal side that has made a flying start to the season.

John McGinn and Scott McTominay are also regularly starring in the Premier League, while there is an impressive raft of younger players coming through the ranks such as Aaron Hickey of Brentford and Josh Doig, who joined Hellas Verona in Italy this summer from Hibs.

In years gone by, a lot of Scottish players were playing in a weakened Scottish Premiership during the demise of Rangers but now many of the star players are regularly playing top-level football and this, in turn, has helped the national team.

Areas to improve

Clarke, who came into the job with an impressive coaching reputation, will want to progress further and Scotland will be aiming to reguarly qualify for the major tournaments coming up after disappointingly missing out on this winter's World Cup.

The planned expansion of future World Cup finals to 48 teams is also likely to boost their chances.

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While there is plenty of quality in and around the squad, there are perhaps two main weaknesses.

Firstly, a long-term successor to Hearts keeper Craig Gordon needs to be found with the 39-year-old still being relied upon as the number one choice.

Gordon, formerly a British transfer record-breaking goalkeeper when he made the move to Sunderland in 2007, provides invaluable experience to a dressing room that is getting younger but there are no obvious replacements for when his time is up.

Liam Kelly and Robby McCrorie, the two other keepers in the latest squad, are both uncapped, while David Marshall's retirement depleted the pool further.

Concerns in attack

Secondly, the lack of a regular goalscoring centre-forward might be their undoing when it comes to crunch fixtures.

Che Adams, who has six goals from 22 caps, is talented and will run the channels, while Lyndon Dykes is a handful who can use his physical presence to great effect.

Yet neither of them are natural goalscorers - Dykes' record of eight goals in 25 caps is respectable enough, but he is being used on a rotation basis at his club QPR and hasn't been scoring regularly in the Championship this season.

He could continue to be an effective impact player, as he was in the 3-1 win against Ireland last week, but there are questions over whether he is good enough to start.

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