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Scotland have got Covid protocols right – Steve Clarke

Scotland v Israel – UEFA Euro 2020 – Play-Offs – Semi Final – Hampden Park
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

Steve Clarke insists club managers should have full confidence that Scotland are taking no coronavirus risks with their players.

Celtic have expressed fresh frustration after seeing Israel full-back Hatem Abd Elhamed become the fourth member of Neil Lennon’s squad forced to self-isolate this week ahead of Saturday’s Old Firm clash.

Nir Bitton is also out of the first derby clash with Rangers of the year after testing positive while Ryan Christie will sit out the clash after he and former Parkhead team-mate Kieran Tierney were ruled to have been in close contact with Stuart Armstrong, who returned a positive test last week.

Striker Odsonne Edouard also contracted the illness while with France Under-21s, but will reportedly return on Friday.

Parkhead bosses say they will be watching with interest as discussions are launched between Europe’s major clubs and chiefs from FIFA and UEFA on whether it is right for players to be released for international duty amid the global pandemic.

But Clarke – whose squad have returned a full bill of negatives ahead of Wednesday’s Nations League clash with the Czech Republic – insists the Scottish Football Association has done all it can to ensure the national squad is protected.

He said: “I think the protocols that we’ve put in place have been proven. We had the Covid incident when we first got to the camp and since then all have tested negative.

“It means that Dr John MacLean and our head of performance Graeme Jones, who are responsible for those Covid protocols, have got it right.”

But Clarke knows it may be a bit rich him mounting a staunch defence of the international game during the current crisis given that it is the SFA who pay his wages.

“I’ve got sympathy for everybody who is affected by the Covid virus, whether it is football or outside of football,” he said. “But if there was no international football, I wouldn’t have a job.

“We’re all doing the best we can in a difficult situation to get the season played, so I don’t think I’m the one to judge on the fixtures and who should be doing what.”

John Fleck will sit out Wednesday’s game along with suspended skipper Andy Robertson after succumbing to a back injury sustained during Sunday’s win over Slovakia.

But those problems are nothing compared to the Covid issues again threatening Czech hopes.

After being forced to assemble an entirely new squad just 48 hours before last month’s defeat in Olomouc, the Czechs have had eight more players forced to quarantine while boss Jaroslav Silhavy is also self-isolating following an outbreak which has spread so wide that domestic action has been suspended in their homeland.

But Clarke wants his men to focus on the big prizes made possible by his team’s recent resurgence.

Not only are there places up for grabs in next month’s Euro 2020 play-off final clash with Serbia, but victory would also leave the Scots on the verge of topping their Nations League group and boosting chances of a likely play-off spot for the World Cup in Qatar.

“We’ve done well this month but we haven’t finished,” added Clarke after seeing his team extend their unbeaten streak to seven games. “We’ve got another game to go against a very good Czech Republic team.

“I know they have been affected by the Covid situation and their head coach won’t be at the game, which is a shame as that’s twice now I haven’t got to meet Jaroslav yet.

“But there’s no reason for the fans not to be optimistic and positive. We have a one-off game next month which can take us to Euro 2020.

“It also throws up a chance, another chance, of a play-off route into the World Cup in 2022. If we can top the section then we will have that safety net again.

“Everyone who has played over the last two games hasn’t done their case any harm. The ones who play tomorrow have the chance to make themselves undroppable. That’s what we want.

“The guys outside of the squad have three weeks to push themselves to the front of my squad as well. It’s a good time to be a Scottish player hoping to play international football.”