Scotland Euro 2020 reporter notebook: Steve Clarke has selection dilemas all over the pitch, so who will he start?

Scotland face the Czech Republic in their European Championships opener on June 14 at Hampden Park; Sky Sports News' Charles Paterson analyses the selection issues facing head coach Steve Clarke ahead of the Group D opener

BELGRADE, SERBIA - NOVEMBER 12: Scotland's players celebrate after David Marshall saves Aleksandar Mitrovi..'s penalty during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier between Serbia and Scotland at the Stadion Rajko Mitic on November 12, 2020, in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Nikola Krstic / SNS Group) 4:48
Scotland's players, Steve Clarke and Sir Alex Ferguson reflect on that night in Serbia as Scotland qualified for the Euros

Scotland are preparing for their first major men's tournament in 23 years and with less than a week to go until it all gets underway, now is the calm before the storm for the team.

Having successfully negotiated two friendlies in the last week, the squad were given time to relax with families and take a breath before meeting up at the team's training base in Darlington, ahead of Monday's Euro 2020 opener against the Czech Republic.

For Steve Clarke, there is little time for rest or reflection. Scotland's head coach could have a few sleepless nights in the next week, as he wrestles with his selection options ahead of his team's first game in Group D at Hampden Park. The decisions he makes over the coming days may define Scotland's tournament chances - and the mood of a nation.

Who to play in goal?

David Marshall (PA) 0:32
Former Scotland coach Jim Stewart says Clarke has a tough decision on who to pick as his number one at Euro 2020

The hero of November's penalty shootout in Serbia, David Marshall, played 90 minutes on Sunday against Luxembourg, after Craig Gordon started last Wednesday against the Netherlands. Both have vast experience, and the full respect of the other. Neither would let Scotland down. The clincher, in Clarke's head, may be form.

Sunday's game was Marshall's first since April 20, when he lost his place in Derby County's team after some indifferent form. A clean sheet in Luxembourg will have been a confidence boost, but his error against Israel in March's World Cup qualifier opened the door for Gordon to play against the Faroes three days later.

The Hearts goalkeeper was at his consistent best throughout much of the Scottish Championship season, but until recently was very much behind Marshall in the international queue.

Gordon may have timed his run perfectly, but ultimately Clarke, with the consultation of goalkeeping coach Stevie Woods, will make the final decision. At this stage, it appears too close to call.

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Settling the defence

Clarke appears set on a preferred formation based around three centre-backs; while Kieran Tierney is a certain starter, and Grant Hanley appears to be pencilled in, the identity of the third is still not clear.

Jack Hendry grabbed a first international goal against the Netherlands, but let Memphis Depay escape him for a Dutch equaliser. A confident ball player who has resurrected his career in Belgium with Oostende, he offers a balance on the right that complements the dynamism of Tierney on the left.

Netherlands v Scotland 3:12
Hendry scored in Scotland's draw against the Netherlands

Declan Gallagher and Scott McKenna both enjoyed a comfortable half each against Luxembourg, while Liam Cooper started against the Dutch and performed well. All three are adaptable enough to play in any combination, so it may come to how Clarke sees them in training between now and Monday.

Hendry's extra attacking impetus may just give him the edge, but Gallagher proved in Serbia he can rise to the big occasion, while Cooper has been playing at the highest level, captaining Leeds Utd to a successful season in the Premier League. Once again this is a tricky call for Clarke.

Gilmour ready for a breakthrough?

LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG - JUNE 06: Billy Gilmour in action for Scotland during a friendly match between Luxembourg and Scotland at the Stade Josy Barthel on June 06, 2021, in Luxembourg, Scotland. (Photo by Pim Waslander / SNS Group)
Image: Gilmour came on as a substitute in both of Scotland's Euro 2020 warm-up matches

Half an hour in Luxembourg was all it took for Billy Gilmour's potential to imprint itself into the minds of Scotland fans everywhere. The 19-year old looked utterly at ease in just his second international appearance, albeit against limited opposition, and creatively added an extra element. He could have scored twice before being wiped out of the game by a crude challenge.

The question in Clarke's mind is now whether the Chelsea midfielder has done enough to force his way into Monday's starting line-up at Hampden Park. With Scott McTominay and John McGinn seemingly certain starters, there is only one spot available in the centre of the park, currently occupied by Callum McGregor.

Scotland and Arsenal defender Jenny Beattie says that despite his limited game time for Chelsea, Gilmour can still have a big role to play for Scotland

The Celtic midfielder is utterly reliable, but has perhaps not shown his best form in a difficult season at club level. It would be a massive show of faith from Clarke to pick Gilmour from the start against the Czechs, but history suggests the younger man could initially be utilised from the bench as an impact substitute. Gilmour will be a star for years to come, but the future may be the present as far as Scotland are concerned.

Attacking opportunities

Gilmour is not the only one pressing his case in a creative sense. Stuart Armstrong put in a strong shift against the Dutch and has the advantage of having a close relationship with Che Adams at Southampton. Clarke's thinking will be determined by the balance he is seeking middle to front once the tournament starts.

Adams and Lyndon Dykes linked up well against Luxembourg, but spurned various chances to nail down their starting spots. Against the Czechs, Clarke must consider whether to field them as a front two, or add a fourth, attacking midfielder to the mix - this is where Armstrong, Ryan Christie, James Forrest or Ryan Fraser all come into the frame.

Che Adams celebrates scoring his first Scotland goal 2:21
Former Scotland forward Darren Jackson believes Steve Clarke should opt to play with both Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams up front at the Euros

The latter two have struggled with injuries and may, again, be best suited to roles from the bench - or within a different system if Scotland are chasing a game. Christie's form has tailed off after scoring the crucial goal in Serbia, but he is capable of moments of magic that few in the squad can match.

The options at Clarke's disposal are welcome, and something of a rarity for a Scotland head coach ahead of a major tournament; throughout the 1990s Scotland's hopes foundered on an inability to find the net in the big games. In twelve group games at two World Cups and two European Championships, Scotland scored just eight goals - with three of those being penalties.

In contrast, after a tense autumn filled with tight nervy score-lines, Clarke's vintage have scored ten goals in their last five games in 2021, and have the advantage of playing two group matches at home. Form and favour appear to be with the Scots heading into the biggest games of all.


Scotland's confidence has soared since the side qualified for Euro 2020 - their first major tournament for 23 years 0:26
Clarke says his side are full of confidence ahead of the European Championships and will relish the challenge

The record of Scotland at major tournaments does not need repeating in this article. Over many years the national team - both men and women - have found increasingly traumatic ways to exit at the group stage, with Scotland's capitulation in Paris at the 2019 Women's World Cup amongst the greatest of international calamities.

Euro 2020 represents another chance to bury the hoodoo, but also a unique opportunity. This is the first time - perhaps the only time ever - that Scotland will play major championship fixtures at Hampden Park, so they simply must capitalise on home advantage. Host countries have often risen to the occasion and pushed for glory, many punching above their weight in the process: England in 1996, France in 1998 and 2016, South Korea in 2002, Portugal in 2004, and Russia in 2018.

It is England who represent Scotland's biggest challenge in Group D, and that game at Wembley will be the major focus of many, but progression is likely to be determined by the games at Hampden Park. Scotland beat the Czech Republic twice in the Nations League earlier this season - Monday's meeting should hold no fears. A win would put Clarke on the brink of legendary status.

Croatia are a side Scotland have never lost to, but are just three years removed from a World Cup final. On paper, they appear to be a side in decline with a propensity for conceding goals - four against Portugal and France, three against Turkey and two against Sweden earlier this season. They laboured to a 1-1 draw with Armenia last week before a narrow defeat to Belgium on Sunday.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MARCH 25: John McGinn celebrates after he makes it 2-2 with Che Adams (left) during a World Cup qualifier between Scotland and Austria at Hampden Park, on March 25, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. **Please note images are FREE for first use** (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group) 2:34
Former Scotland captain Barry Ferguson believes Steve Clarke's squad can progress beyond the group stages at this summer's Euros

Experience abounds in Croatia's squad, and any team with a midfield of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic must be taken seriously, but when the sides meet Scotland will know what they must do, and the Hampden factor may prove crucial.

One unknown element is how the squad will react to the major tournament environment. After ending the long wait for qualification, it has been refreshing to hear the enthusiasm emanating from Scottish players about the chance not just to compete, but to progress on the global stage. This is a group who have no scars from the past, and the confidence many possess from playing week in week out at the top level in the Premier League could be a huge positive in the days to come.

Time and again in the last century, Scotland arrived at the summer showpiece but added only colour to the occasion, before being politely shown the door when it came to the major business. Clarke's players have an expectation of standards that go far beyond simply reaching the party; they intend to be involved for as long as possible. With the possibility of three teams qualifying from the group and the benefit of home comforts, if there was ever a time to reach the knockout stages, it is surely now.

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