After 23 years in the international wilderness, Scotland manager Steve Clarke said the pressure will be off his side when they begin their Euro 2020 campaign against the Czech Republic at Hampden Park on Monday.
Scotland will be playing in a major tournament for the first time since the 1998 World Cup, but far from that being a burden on his players’ shoulders, Clarke said it could give them the freedom to play at their best.
“I think when you qualify for the first time in 23 years, you probably feel a little bit less pressure,” he told reporters on Sunday.
“We have done well to be in the tournament. We are looking forward to it. We are going to go and give our best and give our all in every single game. And we are going to try and make the next step to the knockout stages, which would be a first for the men’s national team.”
Scotland have never been past the group stage at either the European Championship or the World Cup, but after coming through a nerve-racking playoff win over Serbia to reach the tournament and some positive warmup results, there is excitement among Scottish fans about their prospects.
Clarke, however, said his players would be keeping their emotions in check when they step out at Hampden.
“The country, the Tartan Army, they can get over-excited for us,” he said. “We have to be excited to be involved in the tournament, but we have to keep emotional control so when we get to the match we play to our full potential.”
While his team may lack tournament know-how, Clarke said his squad was well-equipped with players with big-game experience, in particular Liverpool’s Andy Robertson, Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour and Manchester United’s Scott McTominay.
“Andy Robertson has won the Champions League, Billy Gilmour was involved with Chelsea a couple of weeks ago when they won the Champions League. Scott McTominay played in a European final,” he said.
“I have coached a team in the final of the Champions League myself. We understand big games, big moments. Big games are for big players and we believe we have enough big players to handle the occasion.”
After playing the Czech Republic, Scotland travel to Wembley to play England before finishing their Group D campaign against Croatia back at Hampden Park.