Scotland manager Steve Clarke buoyed by debut Cyprus win ahead of Belgium test

Late 2-1 win puts Scotland in third place in Group I, level on points with Russia

Scotland manager Steve Clarke before the match against Cyrpus. Clarke marked his time in charge of Scotland with a 2-1 win at Hampden Park. Reuters
Scotland manager Steve Clarke before the match against Cyrpus. Clarke marked his time in charge of Scotland with a 2-1 win at Hampden Park. Reuters

Steve Clarke says Scotland will head to Belgium full of confidence following their dramatic late 2-1 victory over Cyprus in their European Championship qualifying match in Glasgow.

The new Scotland manager's reign looked to be heading for a disappointing start at Hampden Park on Saturday when Ioannis Kousoulos's 87th minute header cancelled out Andy Robertson's superb second-half opener.

Oliver Burke, however, pounced two minutes later to seal a win that moves Scotland up to third in Group I, level on points with Russia.

Scotland will now travel to Brussels to take on group leaders Belgium but former Kilmarnock manager Clarke believes his side go into the match against the world's top-ranked side with a renewed sense of optimism.

"Tonight was a game that came with big pressure. We didn't speak about it much before the game but we knew that if we didn't get maximum points tonight then the group was almost beyond us," Clarke said.

"Yes, there's lots to work on. But let's just enjoy the win and then we'll work on the next game."

Clarke added: "Belgium away is never easy. They are the best team in the world but we can go there now with a little bit of hope.

"We know we're back in the group and we go there without the same pressure that we had here tonight.

"I think the players will go there with a lot of confidence.

"The late winner tonight, although it was a little bit dramatic, means you actually get a better feeling from it and the players come to the dressing room a bit lively and looking forward to the next game."

Little is expected from the Scots against Roberto Martinez's Belgium side, who claimed third place in the World Cup in Russia last year and have made a 100 per cent winning start to their Group I campaign.

By contrast, Scotland's 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan in their group opener followed by an unconvincing performance in the 2-0 win over lowly San Marino has given them a mountain to climb in terms of automatic qualification, with those results ultimately costing Clarke's predecessor, Alex McLeish, his job.

But Clarke was quick to dismiss suggestions Scotland could write off getting a result in Belgium as they bid to qualify for a first major tournament finals in 22 years.

"I don't think it's a free hit. I think it'll be a difficult game but we are still chasing points in this group," the Scotland manager said.

"We left three points behind in Kazakhstan that we have to try and recover. The next four matches are Belgium away, Russia at home, Belgium at home and then Russia away so in those games we need to find some points."

There had been an air of optimism among the near 32,000 strong support who gathered in Glasgow for Clarke's first game as Scotland manager after becoming increasingly disillusioned during McLeish's time in charge.

In a marked difference to the unveiling of McLeish 15 months previously, Clarke, named Scottish Premiership manager of the year for leading Kilmarnock into third place in the top flight, was a popular choice among the Tartan Army.

And the new Scotland manager was happy to give them the victory they so desperately craved.

"I thought the Tartan Army were good tonight and got right behind us. I'm glad I could send them home with a smile on their face," Clarke said.

Published: June 9, 2019 03:47 PM


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