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Scotland v Armenia: Steve Clarke unsure if Euro 2024 qualification is must for next World Cup bid

Scotland head coach Steve Clarke (centre)
Steve Clarke’s side are looking to bounce back from their World Cup exit
Nations League Group B1: Scotland v Armenia
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Wednesday, 8 June Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland DAB/810MW/online, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app

Steve Clarke says “I don’t know if it’s a must” to lead Scotland to the Euro 2024 finals to realise his dream of being head coach for World Cup 2026.

Scotland missed out on this year’s World Cup finals after Wednesday’s 3-1 play-off semi-final loss to Ukraine.

“My contract runs out when our interest in Euro 2024 runs out, so it’s probably a good idea to qualify for Euro 2024,” the 58-year-old said.

Asked if it was necessary, he replied: “You’d have to ask my bosses that.”

Clarke is keen to “take the knocks and move on” from the Hampden defeat and focus on Wednesday’s first-ever meeting with Armenia, which marks the start of Scotland’s Nations League campaign.

“We’ve looked at it, we’ve assessed it and hopefully we’ve learned from it,” he said. “I think what you learn from it is that we were a good team going into the game, we didn’t perform on the night – that doesn’t make us a bad team coming out it.”

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When asked about criticism of his tactics during the Hampden defeat, Clarke said: “They are entitled to their opinion. I don’t know what it was. I didn’t read it, I didn’t listen to it.

“We’ve now lost one in nine and everybody wants to change what went before – I’m not sure where the logic is in that.”

Armenia, world ranked 53 places below Scotland in 92nd, head to Hampden having impressed Clarke in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Republic of Ireland, the first game in Group B1, that ended the visitors’ eight-game unbeaten run.

It was a result made all the more surprising by the fact Armenia had been thumped 9-0 away to Norway in their last fixture, a friendly in March, and had lost nine goals in their previous two home games, scoring just once.

Scotland next travel to face Stephen Kenny’s Republic on Saturday before Clarke takes his side to Armenia on Tuesday and the Scotland boss is backing his players to bounce back, having done so from previous disappointments.

“It’s a new tournament, it’s one we want to do well in and if we can manage to finish top of the section and get into the A group for the next round of Nations League matches then that would be another sign of the progress that I think we are making,” he said.

“Obviously, we have to finish above Ukraine and they showed against us at Hampden that they were a very good team.”

Team news

Clarke indicated that “over the course of the next six days, we’ve got three games, a lot of travel, quite a big long flight to Armenia, so I’ll need to use the squad well”.

Everton right-back Nathan Patterson is available after narrowly missing out on a return in Saturday’s defeat by Ukraine after recovering from ankle surgery required following his last Scotland outing in March, the injury having ended the 20-year-old’s domestic season.

Aberdeen midfielder Lewis Ferguson was still unable to train fully with the squad on Tuesday after a “very minor” knock, while Queens Park Rangers striker Lyndon Dykes withdrew after picking up an injury that led to him being substituted on Saturday.

All 14 Armenia players who featured in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Republic of Ireland were fit to travel to Scotland and were part of Joaquin Caparros’ 29-man squad who arrived in Glasgow on Monday.

Yerevan defender Hayk Ishkhanyan is among them despite missing out against the Republic through injury, while Columbas Crew forward Lucas Zelarayan had already withdrawn from the squad.

Pick your Scotland XI to face Armenia

What they said

Scotland head coach Steve Clarke: “I watched Armenia at the weekend and they were good. You saw they maybe suffered a bit from their friendly defeat in March – it took them 30 minutes to settle into the game. Then, once they settled into the game, they were good and deserved their win.

“They got promotion from League C to move into League B, so they obviously had a good tournament. They finished above North Macedonia in that group and North Macedonia are the team that knocked Italy out the World Cup, so to do that, they are pretty decent.”

What do we know about Armenia?

While Scotland stayed in the second tier of the Nations League after finished runners-up to Czech Republic in their group two years ago, Armenia won promotion to League B after heading North Macedonia, Georgia and Estonia in theirs.

Head coach Caparros had plenty of experience, and many clubs, before taking charge in 2020 at the tail end of the campaign, the 66-year-old Spaniard having had spells in charge of Villarreal, Sevilla, Deportivo La Coruna, Mallorca and Osasuna among others.

He has won nine of his 21 matches in charge, losing only seven, but March’s 9-0 friendly defeat away to Norway came soon after heavy defeats by Germany and old rivals North Macedonia in World Cup qualifying as they finished fourth behind those two and Romania.

Only four of their starting line-up against the Republic play in their domestic league and a paucity of striking talent meant they started with two midfielders up front in their 5-3-2 formation – Tigran Barseghyan of Czech champions Slovan Bratislava and Vahan Bichakhchyan, part of the Pogon Szczecin squad that finished third in Poland.

Sargis Adamyan, who scored six times in 16 appearances for Belgian champions Club Brugge on loan from Hoffenheim, came off the bench, while Eduard Spertsyan’s match-winning goal reflected the promise shown as he scored eight in 25 in helping Krasnodar finish fourth in the Russian top flight.

Match Stats

  • Scotland have gone three matches without a win after a run of six consecutive victories, Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Ukraine ending an eight-game unbeaten run.
  • Armenia have gone seven away games without a win since beating Luxembourg 1-0 in a March 2021 World Cup qualifier.
  • Scotland remain in Nations League B after finishing second behind Czech Republic in their group two years ago, ahead of Israel and Slovakia.
  • Armenia won promotion to League B after winning their League C group ahead of North Macedonia, Georgia and Estonia.
  • While Scotland finished runners-up in their qualifying group for World Cup 2022 behind Denmark, Armenia were fourth in theirs, behind Germany, North Macedonia and Romania but ahead of Iceland and Liechtenstein.
  • Armenia currently sit 92nd in the Fifa world rankings, with Scotland in 39th.
  • Norway inflicted Armenia’s worst-ever defeat in March with a 9-0 victory in an Oslo friendly.

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