Scotland head coach Steve Clarke hailed his side for taking the next step in their ongoing progress – and vowed they would not stop.
Clarke’s side secured top spot in UEFA Nations League Group B1 with a 0-0 draw against Ukraine in Krakow.
The feat brings promotion to the elite level of the next Nations League, a place among the second seeds for the Euro 2024 qualifiers, and a guaranteed play-off spot to qualify for that tournament should they need it.
Clarke admitted Scotland had pressed the “reset button” after the summer’s disappointment, when they lost to Ukraine in the World Cup play-offs and went down 3-0 in Dublin.
They responded by taking seven points from three games against Ukraine and the Republic of Ireland inside a week.
Clarke said: “I sat down with all my staff and said ‘we have to set a different environment, we have to be more demanding of the players, we have to push that agenda’.
“Then I sat with the players and we went through what we did well in the summer, what we didn’t do so well.
“We gave them a lot of information to change the system, to play a slightly different way.
“These players are desperate to play for their country, they have taken it on board and had a really good week.”
Clarke, who pointed out his contract expires before Scotland’s next Nations League campaign, added: “Sometimes it doesn’t work out for us but they are always determined to do well.
“We went to Serbia and got the result in the play-off to take us to our first major finals in such a long time. We had the European Championship and took it to the last game and just came up short.
“We then had a really good group campaign in the World Cup and came up just short in the play-off.
“I asked the players before the game, we have done it again, we have taken this campaign to the last game. Let’s make the next step so we can show everyone how we are improving. I said let’s make sure we take the next step. Then we will feel good about ourselves.
“The supporters were magnificent, the connection between the supporters and players is fantastic. That’s what we are working towards.
“Now we have reached pot two and in the A group of the Nations League. We don’t want to stop, we want to keep on getting better and better if we can.”
Clarke hailed his central defenders after the crucial clean sheet, with debutant Ryan Porteous impressing alongside Jack Hendry.
“Porteous was outstanding for a debut, I’m so pleased for the boy,” Clarke said. “It shows he listens, it shows he learns.
“I am also really pleased for Jack Hendry. It was a big ask for Jack. Everyone expects Callum McGregor to play three games in a short time at that intensity. Everyone expects John McGinn can do that. I had to ask Jack Hendry to do that again.
“He was struggling a little bit with a cold, his performances were outstanding in the three games. It’s nice to get a clean sheet again, it makes me happy as a coach.”
Clarke had lost eight players from his original squad through injury and suspension while others were struggling with a sickness bug.
“Sometimes that can galvanise you,” he said. “Maybe I over-egged the illness a little bit just to galvanise us going into the game.
“The only thing I was mindful of was if someone had woken up with the same bug then they wouldn’t have played.”
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