Steve Clarke says he is ‘CONVINCED’ Scotland will make up for their World Cup exit by qualifying for Euro 2024 and admits Ukraine were ‘well prepared’ and ‘the best team’ in their emotional play-off semi-final clash
A defiant Steve Clarke vowed to bounce back from the crushing disappointment of a World Cup exit by taking Scotland to the Euro 2024 finals.
Victorious Ukraine coach Olexandr Petrakov insists his players were driven by the determination to make their war-torn nation proud.
And, despite six of their starting eleven playing no competitive football since December, the visitors comprehensively outplayed Clarke’s side as they romped to a 3-1 win to set up a play-off final clash against Wales.
Scotland boss Steve Clarke tipped his players to bounce back from their 3-1 loss to Ukraine
The war-ravaged nation produced a clinical display to end Scotland’s World Cup dreams
Despite the promise of extra-time after Callum McGregor’s late strike the Scots were well beaten by goals from Andriy Yarmolenko, Roman Yaremchuk and an added time breakaway from substitute Artem Dovbyk. Ukraine now travel to Cardiff for a place at the Qatar finals on Sunday.
Admitting his side lost to a better team, Clarke’s side entered the game unbeaten in their last eight and promised to build on the progress of the last two years by reaching the next Euro finals in Germany.
‘I am convinced,’ said the Scotland boss. ‘That’s why it is important we don’t forget how far we have come over the last three years.
Clarke said he was ‘convinced’ his side would recover and qualify for Euro 2024 in Germany
‘We have to qualify for Euro 2024 and beyond that we have to get to the next World Cup in 2026.
‘This group of players will have more caps, more experience and should be better.
‘When I first came into the job there were some very low moments. We have left those days behind I think, I really do. We have improved a lot.
‘I am sad, I am sad for the players because we wanted to go to the World Cup together.
‘We can’t do that, but we can’t feel too sorry for ourselves. We are a work in progress, we want to get better and hopefully they don’t make me out to be a liar and we do qualify for another tournament. Which I am sure we will.’
Goalkeeper Craig Gordon kept Scotland in the game after a Ukraine side holed up in a Slovenian training camp for the last month threatened to blow them away inside the opening 20 minutes.
Scotland were under-par at Hampden Park and lacked the cutting edge to see off Ukraine
West Ham striker Yarmolenko and Benfica forward Yaremchuk took advantage of awful Scotland defending to score either side of half-time. Despite McGregor’s second international goal offering the home side hope with eight minutes to play Dovbyk raced away on the counter to avert extra-time.
‘The best team won the game,’ Clarke acknowledged. ‘It’s disappointing for us but sometimes the opposition play better and that was the case tonight.
‘I knew they’d be well prepared. They are a good team so that’s what we expected. But we didn’t pass the ball well enough in the first half and that was also credit to the way Ukraine pressed us. We couldn’t really get out.
‘So I decided to make a change at half time to try to address that – to put another midfield player on the pitch and play through the lines – but before we had a chance to play we were two goals down. From there it was a long way back.
‘But in the second half, at 2-0 down, we did get a foothold in the game. We started to make some chances.
John McGinn (R) was guilty of a huge miss to get Scotland back in the game as they faltered
Clarke admitted Scotland were second best but said they could not rest on their laurels
‘John (McGinn) missed a big chance and if we had made it 2-1 with 30 minutes to go then maybe you can have a little bit more composure as you chase the game.
‘If you score quite late it becomes a frantic chase. When it’s frantic the ball rarely falls for you.’
With hopes of reaching a first World Cup finals since France 98 now gone Clarke must now prepare for Nations League games against Armenia (twice) and Republic of Ireland.
‘The first thing you have to do is you have to suffer together. I’m suffering, the coaching staff is suffering and more than anybody, the players are suffering.
‘We’ll have 24 hours where we’ll feel sorry for ourselves.
‘We have got to go away and we have got to analyse the game. From what I saw in the first-half, we didn’t play enough through the midfield.
‘Sometimes you have to credit the opposition. Tonight, Ukraine were a good team.’