Scots’ Clarke buoyed by Cyprus win ahead of Belgium test - GulfToday

Scots’ Clarke buoyed by Cyprus win ahead of Belgium test


Scotland’s Oliver Burke scores against Cyprus during their Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group I match in Glasgow on Saturday. Associated Press

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 percent 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 boss was happy to give them the victory they so desperately craved.

Elsewhere, Italy crushed Greece 3-0 to notch up their third win in as many games and pull three points clear at the top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group in Athens on Saturday.

The four-time world champions have put the failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup behind them, and have now been transformed under new coach Roberto Mancini.

Nicolo Barella opened the scoring after 23 minutes with Lorenzo Insigne and Leonardo Bonucci adding two more in a 10-minute blitz which followed. Mancini’s side have now scored a total of 11 goals and none conceded in their three Group J qualifiers against Greece, Finland and Liechtenstein.

The Italians next play Bosnia-Herzegovina, who fell 2-0 to Finland, in Turin on Tuesday, while Greece play Armenia, who beat Liechtenstein 3-0.

Agence France-Presse

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