GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) – Scotland are hoping to reach their first World Cup finals in 24 years but if Steve Clarke’s side are to make it through the playoffs it will have to be at the expense of war-torn Ukraine.
The two countries face each other at Hampden Park on Wednesday and the winner will then travel to Cardiff for the final playoff game against Wales on Sunday with a place in November’s finals on the line.
With so much solidarity and support around the world for Ukraine, the Scots know they will have few neutrals backing them but Clarke said that his players have to block out any thoughts other than the task ahead for them in the 90 minutes on the field.
The game was originally scheduled for March but was postponed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. Despite domestic football having been halted at home, Ukraine have been determined to give themselves a chance of a place in the World Cup.
“They made a decision to get their football players out the country and to a training camp because they want to play and want to try to give their nation a boost by qualifying for Qatar,” Clarke said on Tuesday.
“The game goes ahead amid the horrific outside influence, but for us, we focus on the game of football,” he added.
“How you would deal with yourself if you were put in that situation, you don’t know until you’re actually there, but I’ve nothing but good thoughts for them and good wishes for them – except for during the game,” he said.
Scotland ended their long run without a major tournament by qualifying for Euro 2020 and Clarke said he is convinced they won’t have a long wait for their next taste of tournament football.
“We said we didn’t want to be one-tournament wonders. I’m convinced that this group of players won’t be, whether it’s this tournament 2022 in Qatar or (Euro) 2024 in Germany or 2026 World Cup in America,” he said.
“I’m desperate to go to Qatar with Scotland and my staff are desperate to go and most importantly our players are desperate to go to the World Cup finals and that’s what we focus on,” he added.
“Before the game, there will be a lot of emotion around the Ukraine and I’m sure the Tartan Army will applaud their national anthem and then sing their hearts out and get behind the team and it’s really important for us that they do that.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)