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Clarke’s rejuvenated Scotland cruise to Euro 2024 qualification

Scotland’s serene qualification for Euro 2024 comes as a culture shock for a country used to crushing disappointment from its national team.

For only the second time since the 1998 World Cup, Scotland will grace a major tournament in Germany next year.

Qualification was secured on Sunday without the Scots kicking a ball thanks to Spain’s 1-0 win in Norway.

But Steve Clarke’s men had already done the hard work themselves with a scintillating start to what was considered a highly challenging group.

As well as facing the three-time European champions Spain, Norway and Georgia currently boast generational talents in Erling Haaland and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

Scotland slayed all three, along with a pair of 3-0 wins home and away against Cyprus, in a perfect start to the campaign through five matches.

The 100 percent record came to a controversial end as Spain prevailed 2-0 in Seville on Thursday after Scott McTominay’s strike was ruled out by a questionable VAR review.

A goal from the Manchester United midfielder would have been a fitting way to seal qualification as McTominay’s scoring streak has carried his country to the Euro.

After scoring just once in his first 37 internationals, the 26-year-old netted six times in the first five qualifiers, including twice in a famous 2-0 victory over Spain in March.

Yet, it is his manager that deserves most of the credit for a transformation in Scotland’s fortunes.

Clarke took charge in 2019 shortly after a humiliating 3-0 defeat in Kazakhstan that cost Alex McLeish his job.

The former Kilmarnock and West Brom boss swiftly ended a 23-year wait to reach a major tournament by making Euro 2020 thanks to penalty shootout victories over Israel and Serbia.

But it was a familiar tale of woe once back on the big stage as Scotland lost on home soil to the Czech Republic and Croatia either side of a spirited 0-0 draw against England at Wembley.

Experience counts

Clarke has delivered on his promise in the immediate aftermath of crashing out that it would not take another 23 years for Scotland to reach a major tournament.

Led by Liverpool’s Andy Robertson, Scotland now boast an experienced core undaunted by the challenges of international football thanks to their abundance of Premier League and Champions League appearances.

“The gaffer’s been consistent with the squads he’s picked, and you can see that with the number of caps we’ve got now,” said Robertson.

“When he took over there wasn’t that experience and now we’ve got lads on high thirties, early forties and that makes a huge difference.”

A friendly defeat to England last month before losing to Spain has provided a reality check to the jubilant mood of the Tartan Army.

But tens of thousands are expected to descend on Germany come June in what will be the first chance in a generation to fully enjoy the major tournament buzz.

Capacity was capped at 12,000 for Scotland’s two games at Hampden during Euro 2020 due to coronavirus restrictions.

For years, the Scottish support travelled the length and breadth of the continent in search of a good time.

Now they are also infused with belief that their side can shake up Europe and progress beyond the group stage of a major tournament for the first time.

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