Scotland manager Steve Clarke admits he has a “difficult” selection dilemma on his hands ahead of Monday’s final World Cup Group F qualifier against Denmark.
Clarke will have to balance his desire to push for a seeded place in the play-offs with the need to ensure Scotland go into their semi-final without a number of players.
Eight players are walking a suspension tightrope ahead of the sell-out Hampden clash with the runaway group winners.
However, Scotland have work to do to get among the seeds for next March’s play-off tournament. Defeat against the Danes will likely see the Scots have to travel for the semi-final while victory should ensure a Hampden clash. A draw might be enough too.
Nathan Patterson will miss the Denmark game after picking up his second yellow card of the qualifiers in Friday’s 2-0 win in Moldova, which sealed second place in the group. The Rangers full-back scored the opener and set up Che Adams for the second.
However, his natural replacement at wing-back, Stephen O’Donnell, is one of the eight players on a yellow card.
The others are Andy Robertson, Jack Hendry, Scott McTominay, John McGinn, Adams, Billy Gilmour and Kevin Nisbet. Five of those players started in Chisinau while McTominay missed out with a throat infection but has not been ruled out of Monday’s game.
Clarke is also eager to keep up Scotland’s momentum in their final game before the play-offs after victory on Friday made it five consecutive wins, and the Scotland boss could be set to take some risks.
🔒 Scotland locked in their spot in the #WCQ play-offs with victory in Moldova, while Denmark had already qualified for the #WorldCup 🎟 pic.twitter.com/5Q7vzXOhw4— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 12, 2021
“It’s a difficult one but it’s part and parcel of the process of any qualification campaign. You have to deal with yellow cards,” said Clarke, who had to make five changes to his previous starting line-up in Moldova, partly because of suspensions to Ryan Christie and Lyndon Dykes.
“Sometimes your squad is tested. We have shown we can be missing two or three players and still be very competitive. That’s how we will look at it.
“It’s just one of those things that’s part of the process of getting there. I thought about it long and hard, we could have spoken about getting some players booked (on Friday night) and then they miss the game against Denmark on Monday.
“We probably need to get something from the game on Monday to get that seeding, so Monday is a really important game for us.
“We also want to keep then momentum going. It’s difficult to win five matches in a row at any level. We have done it at international level, which is particularly hard.
“And we want to make sure we put on a good show on Monday night and get something from that game as well so we go into March in a really good frame of mind.”
Clarke was also missing Grant Hanley and Ryan Fraser in Moldova but his team earned a comfortable victory. With Dykes and Christie out, the Scotland boss dispensed with his usual strike pair and went with McGinn and Armstrong as attacking midfielders either side of Adams.
“It means the depth of the squad is getting better and better,” he said. “And obviously for me as a coach as well I tried a tweak in the system which hasn’t quite worked for us (in the past). I thought it worked quite well, with the two attacking midfielders behind the striker.
“Some of the football was really good. Both goals were a good example. The second goal was a great goal, great little combination on the right between John McGinn and Nathan again and Che was where every good striker should be, inside the six-yard box to put the ball home. A lot of good things.”
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