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Steve Clarke confident Scotland will continue to improve after draw with Austria

Scotland v Austria – FIFA 2022 World Cup – Qualifying – Group F – Hampden Park
(Image credit: Jane Barlow)

Steve Clarke is convinced Scotland will keep improving after opening their World Cup campaign with a draw against Austria.

The Scotland  manager largely took the positives from the 2-2 Hampden draw with the second seeds.

But with only the group winners guaranteed qualification, and only three European teams qualifying through play-offs, Sunday’s tie in Israel takes on added significance after Denmark won 2-0 in Tel Aviv.

Clarke took confidence from the way his side improved after Austria dominated the opening quarter, with the help of Ryan Christie moving further forward to help the ball stick in the opposition half. And from the spirit Scotland showed to twice level in the second half.

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“You want to build confidence and momentum,” he said. “We haven’t lost at Hampden for a while now so we wanted to keep that going. It gives us a foothold in the group.

“A difficult game to come on Sunday but we look to go there and play with the same confidence and quality that we showed against a good Austria team. We competed very well with them.

“If we can keep performance levels high, normally results follow. If we can play the way we did last time we were in Israel, where I thought we played well and lost 1-0, if we can take this level of performance forward, then this team can keep improving.

“I am 100 per cent convinced this team can keep improving. And we go to Israel with the intention of getting three points.”

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Clarke is also optimistic about his defence despite conceding two goals in a game for the first time since 2019.

Both Jack Hendry and Grant Hanley were making their first international appearances for three years, with the former unable to prevent Sasa Kalajdzic netting twice and the latter settling after an early booking to net the first equaliser.

“We had a new-look defence so the longer they work together, the better they can be,” Clarke said.

“We can certainly improve defensively because we conceded two goals. We don’t like conceding goals.

“The first goal was a slow reaction off David (Marshall)’s save, and the second we allowed the ball into the box too easily.

“There are little things we can work on but the biggest thing is we showed character, we showed we are a good team, and we have to carry that forward.”

Grant Hanley

Scotland’s Grant Hanley scores (Jane Barlow/PA)

Clarke added: “He is comfortable on the ball, Jack. He hasn’t had many caps so he will grow with experience. You talk about Grant coming in after three years out but that was his 30th cap, so Grant is coming in with vast experience. Jack will grow into the international game.”

The defensive recalls allowed Scott McTominay to move into midfield while giving Kieran Tierney licence to push forward, which he occasionally did to impressive effect.

“He does well every week in the English Premier League for Man United, so I know what I’m getting off Scott,” Clarke said. “He’s a top player.

“What we are trying to do as we develop the team is ask our outside central defenders to step into midfield and push forward, and Kieran can certainly do that.”

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Che Adams also got his first taste of international action and could get more time in Israel.

On the Southampton striker, Clarke said: “He did OK, it was a tough game to get into, quite a physical game. But he showed some good moments.

“The more he is in the group, the more he gets to know the players round about him. But he’s a good option.”