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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Matthew Lindsay

Steve Clarke keen for Scotland to emulate the Class of '84 in Spain qualifier

DAVIE Cooper held off a Spanish defender and flicked a Steve Nicol throw-in into the path of his Scotland team mate Kenny Dalglish in the opposition box with the deftest of touches.

The Liverpool forward picked up the ball at pace and, closely pursued by no fewer than three rival players, sprinted away from goal towards the penalty spot.

Suddenly, Dalglish swivelled and unleashed a ferocious left foot shot which flew beyond outstretched goalkeeper Luis Arconada and into the top left corner of the net.

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The 74,299 supporters who were crammed inside the old Hampden Park erupted as their hero put his country 3-1 ahead in some style - and effectively clinched a famous victory in a vital World Cup qualifier.

Steve Clarke, the current Scotland manager, was standing on the terraces among the Tartan Army on that memorable evening in 1984 and can still, along with everyone else who was watching, remember the occasion vividly 39 years on.

So he knows that if his charges can emulate their predecessors – who remain the last national team to beat Spain - tonight and move three points clear at the top of their Euro 2024 qualifying section nobody in the sell-out 50,000-strong crowd will ever forget it.     

“I was here that night,” he said at Hampden yesterday after putting Andy Robertson and his compatriots through their paces in their final training session before the Group A match at Lesser Hampden. 

“I remember Kenny’s goal, coming in and curling it into the big net with the big stanchion going all the way back. It was nice. I was there with my dad. We were always in the North Terrace. It was a good night.

“You always remember the winning goal, don’t you? I’ve got a coach in there (Steven Naismith) who scored a goal against Spain with a diving header (in a Euro 2012 qualifier at Hampden in 2010). But nobody remembers it because we lost 3-2. Naisy is devastated by that!

“But hopefully we can be talking about what someone did against Spain in this particular game in 20 years’ time. We were just talking about the game back in 1984. You speak about games like that forever. If you get a positive result, it will happen.”

That, of course, will be easier said than done. Spain may have suffered an ignominious exit from the World Cup at the last 16 stage last year when they were beaten by Morocco on penalties. But new manager Luis de la Fuentes will still, with Alejandro Balde, Aymeric Laporte, Dani Carvajal, Rodri, Fabian Ruiz, Gavi, Alvaro Morata and Dani Olmo all in his squad, field some exceptional footballers.

Clarke watched the visitors’ match against Norway in Malaga on Saturday evening – which they won 3-0 thanks to an early Olmo strike and a late Joselu double – and was impressed at how well they acquitted themselves.

He is confident that Scotland can give their fans a performance and a result to cheer. But he is well aware there will have to be a stark improvement on the Cyprus display at the weekend for them to  prevail.

“I thought Spain were good against Norway,” he said. “They played almost the same shape as before, with Rodri as the sitting player, two high No 8s, the full-backs going forward, more so on the left than the right because the right full-back is a little bit more experienced and more defensive, Carvajal.

“Morata is the striker and everyone knows how he plays. He likes to drop deep and link the play and he is a danger in the box. Although they have changed the personnel, the style of play and the type of player that they have in all these different positions is pretty much the same.

“Obviously, we need to be better out of possession than we were against Cyprus. They have the ability to make two passes and cut you wide open. So we have to make sure we close the gaps and track the runners and do all the basics we have to do defensively.” 

The atmosphere in the Cyprus game was strangely subdued for long spells. Clarke will be hoping the evening kick-off brings the best out of the Scotland supporters tonight. However, he knows the backing they receive is dependent on how well they play.

“The crowd will be good at the start of the game,” he said. “The build-up and the national anthem will make sure the crowd is buzzing at the start of the game. Then it’s up to the players. Then it’s up to us on the pitch. We have to give the crowd the belief that we can get something from the game.

“So it’s important we start the game well. Whether that’s by starting the game well with full-out attack and creating chances, or whether that’s starting the game well by defending well and not looking vulnerable at the back, I don’t know.

“The game will pan out the way it pans out. But I would like to think we could be on the front foot at the start and get the crowd really excited.

“I would like to think that as long as the home support can see that we are working hard, closing them down and are not always feeling as if we are going to concede, they will encourage the players. And if you are in the game you always have a chance.”

Scotland have made steady progress in the four years that Clarke has been in charge. Can they build on that by beating a country as renowned as Spain? Anything is possible at Hampden. Clarke certainly feels that their rivals will not underestimate them.

“I would like to think that what we’ve done over the last couple of years in international football will get us the respect of any team coming to Hampden,” he said. ”You have to look at the results we’ve had.

“They will come with the confidence of being top seeds. They will come here expecting to win. But we have to make sure it is a very difficult night for them.”

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