Clarke encouraged by Scotland’s character
Steve Clarke hailed his Scotland players for handling the pressure after Oliver Burke’s late winner against Cyprus kept them alive in their Euro 2020 group.
Scotland looked to be heading for the three points they desperately needed after defeat in Kazakhstan in March cost Alex McLeish his job, when Andy Robertson hit the top corner from 25 yards just after the hour mark.
But Robertson lost his marker at an 87th-minute corner and Ioannis Kousoulos headed an equaliser that threatened to ruin Clarke’s debut as an international manager.
However, Burke netted from the rebound two minutes later after his own header had hit the post and Scotland now travel to Belgium knowing their bid for automatic qualification is not over yet.
Clarke said: “I’m pleased for the players. I thought the way they have worked this week going into the game that we would be good enough to win the game.
“We certainly put ourselves in a position to win the game with a great strike from Andy Robertson.
“From there I thought we had really good control of the game. I couldn’t see Cyprus scoring from open play.
“But unfortunately we switched off from a set-play and got severely punished for it.
“But after that, the character of the players to come back and the resilience (shone through). It would have been easy for them to feel sorry for themselves but they didn’t and I think that bodes well for the future.”
Cyprus had other chances before they scored but Clarke focused on the positives.
“It’s difficult for me to be too critical of the players,” he said. “They gave us three points, they couldn’t have done any more.
“It was a game that came with a lot of pressure. We didn’t speak about it much beforehand but we knew if we didn’t take maximum points the group was almost beyond us.
“So I think we should credit the players and maybe not look too much at one or two little mistakes that we can improve on.”
The 55-year-old was put through the wringer during the 90 minutes but he savoured the occasion.
“I loved it,” the former Kilmarnock manager said. “I loved the pre-match, I loved the national anthem, I liked the Tartan Army, I thought they got right behind the team and I’m glad we could send them home with a smile on their face.”
Cyprus manager Ran Ben Simon was proud of his players.
“I have mixed emotions,” the Israeli said. “We feel we could have got more out the game.
“We came with a lot of youngsters and inexperienced players and we played a proper game. We didn’t want to come like cowards – our main aim was to have courage.
“We knew Scotland would have a lot of motivation in their first game with a new manager. I think we did everything right. But in the end it’s the result that counts.”