Steve Clarke has admitted to serious doubts that Scotland’s World Cup play-off semi-final against Ukraine will take place on its rescheduled early June date.
Ukraine’s visit to Hampden Park, originally set for Thursday, was postponed due to Russia’s invasion of the country. It has since emerged that several of Ukraine’s squad have signed up for military service. Scotland will host Poland in a friendly instead, with £10 from every ticket sold being donated to Unicef’s Ukrainian aid efforts.
Provisional Uefa and Fifa plans involve Scotland facing Ukraine on a June date originally intended for Nations League fixtures, with the winners to face Wales or Austria days later for a World Cup place. Clarke, while adamant the semi-final should take place if at all possible, is sceptical about that happening in little more than two months.
“The very short answer is ‘no’,” the Scotland manager said when asked whether there had been an update on the play-off. “I would imagine everyone is waiting until this round of matches is out of the way and then see how the situation develops. But, obviously, it’s not looking great at this moment.
“If you’re asking me now will the game go ahead in June then it’s going to be difficult,” Clarke added. “But it’s a situation we can’t control, so I’ll focus on these two friendlies and make sure we get something out of the games in this camp.
“Then, maybe in April, we can all sit down together, look at the schedule and how it’s going to pan out for us. It’s difficult to see how we’ll be playing them in June and it’s not just about the fixture – it’s the fact that they need to get together, have a training camp and get all their players on the pitch with a proper period of time to prepare for such an important game.
“Andriy Shevchenko, who I know from my time at Chelsea, spoke quite well about the situation and said they would want to play on the pitch. The way the situation is I think they should get as much time as possible to try to make that game happen, Scotland against Ukraine at Hampden.”
It remains unclear what would happen if June proves an unviable option. The game could be pushed into the September international window. “We have to be guided by Fifa, Uefa and most importantly by Ukraine themselves,” Clarke added.
“It’s just a horrible, horrible situation and the quicker we know we’re going to play Ukraine at Hampden the better because it will mean the war has stopped and we’re all trying to move forward again. We have to be guided by other people and hope and pray that the situation improves enough for the fixture to go ahead at some time.”
The Scotland captain, Andrew Robertson, will miss the Poland match because of illness, but the Liverpool full-back may return for the friendly against Wales or Austria on Tuesday. Clarke is expected to name his strongest available team, with Everton’s Nathan Patterson likely to play at right-back despite a shortage of domestic minutes since his £11m January move from Rangers.
The Poland head coach, Czeslaw Michniewicz, in charge of the team for the first time, denied he would shuffle his pack drastically with next week’s play-off final against Sweden or the Czech Republic in mind.