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Steve Clarke insists Scotland are well aware of importance of clash with Israel

Steve Clarke File Photo
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

Steve Clarke insists his Scotland players are well aware of what is at stake against Israel on Thursday week.

The national team boss named his 26-man squad for the crunch Euro 2020 play-off semi-final clash and the following Nations League matches against Slovakia and Czech Republic.

All three games at Hampden Park next month will be played behind closed doors due to on-going Covid-19 crowd restriction but Clarke insists his players are keen to reach the final against either Serbia or Norway next month and then the first major finals since the 1998 World Cup in France.

“You have to respect the magnitude of the game,” said Clarke, whose side drew 1-1 with Israel at Hampden Park in their Nations League opener earlier in the month.

“I spoke to the players before in previous camps, that they have the chance to make a little bit of history for their country.

“The players are aware of the size of the game and what it means to the country and they are determined to make sure we put on a good show and make sure we are still involved come November.

“The last game against them re-emphasised that they are a really good team with good attacking options.

“It will come down to what it always comes down to – don’t make mistakes and hope that someone can come up with something special for Scotland.”

Clarke was happy to see Sheffield United striker Oli McBurnie and Dundee United attacker Lawrence Shankland return from injuries, although disappointed to see Celtic’s James Forrest miss out with an ankle complaint.

Ryan Fraser was left out of Clarke’s last squad due to the fact he was without a club at the time but returns having signed for Newcastle, while Hibernian defender Ryan Porteous is also included for the second time in the full squad as reward for an impressive start to the season at Easter Road.

Cyprus v Scotland – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group I – GSP Stadium

Lawrence Shankland back in Scotland squad (Tim Goode/PA)

Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack was expected to miss this month’s internationals with a calf injury sustained against Dundee United a fortnight ago but with Ibrox boss Steven Gerrard confirming he will return to training this week, he has also been handed a call-up.

Clarke said: “It is good to have Lawrence back available, he came into the squad at the end of last year and did well for us.

“He got his first goal against San Marino and I am sure he is looking forward to adding to that tally.

“Ryan  (Porteous) was in the squad in November and I thought he trained well with us.

“He didn’t get the chance to play but he comes into the squad this time on the back of a really good start for his club and I look forward to working with him again.

“Obviously if he (Ryan Jack) is not fit to play for Rangers in the next two games it will be more difficult to come with the Scottish national team but I will give him every chance to be fit and available.”

The original play-off semi-final was scheduled for March in front of a packed Hampden only for it to fall foul of the coronavirus.

Clarke said: “I don’t think there is too much point going on and on about the crowds.

“We just have to accept that and make sure that no matter who is in the stadium, the supporters will be somewhere safe, socially distancing and we can give them something to smile about at the end of the night.

“For the original tie in March, we sold 50,000 tickets, there was going to be a big interest and we knew they would be there to help us. They won’t be there in body but they will be there in spirit.”