Clarke confident Scotland players can handle expectations ahead of Belgium clash

Steve Clarke dismissed concerns over the mentality of his Scotland team as they bid to rescue their chances of a top-two finish in their Euro 2020 group against the world’s top-ranked team.

Skipper Andy Robertson admitted Scotland got “scared” by going 1-0 up and were a “bag of nerves” after the equaliser in a 2-1 defeat by Russia on Friday, which left them six points off second place.

Midfielder John McGinn also felt Scotland might have lacked belief after his early goal and Clarke himself, immediately after the game, questioned whether their change of approach after the goal had been a mental issue.

However, the Scotland manager has not felt the need to work any harder on his team’s mentality as they prepare for Monday’s visit of World Cup semi-finalists Belgium.

Clarke said: “All the players are very, very experienced players at their own level so they should be able to handle the pressure and the expectations.

“I think some of the talk after the game about the nerves and not handling the game properly is not quite right. It was the way the game went away from us more than the nervous aspect.

“We lost control of the game tactically, more or less because we allowed Russia to pen us in close to our 18-yard box. They played well off the big striker and that caused us a lot problems.

“I’m not so worried about the mental side, we have good mental strength.

“It was the way the game went, we got penned back in our own half and didn’t push up far enough, quick enough. You can start to analyse it, maybe we didn’t put enough pressure high up the pitch to allow the defence to come out, maybe the defence thought they were comfortable sitting in.

“Listen, it’s a game of football, it’s what happens. We have analysed it and this will certainly be a different game because Belgium play a different game to Russia. We will have different problems to think about.”

Belgium have caused plenty of problems for Scotland over the past 12 months, winning 4-0 in a Hampden friendly when Alex McLeish was in charge, and triumphing 3-0 in a qualifier two games into Clarke’s reign.

With Scotland six points and 17 goals worse off than Russia, Clarke knows his team need to go for victory against the group leaders.

Clarke confident Scotland players can handle expectations ahead of Belgium clash PLZ Soccer
Romelu Lukaku scored the opener against Scotland in Brussels (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“You have to be defensively organised and disciplined but at the same time we also need to have a threat going forward,” the former Kilmarnock manager said. “There’s no point thinking we can camp in for 95-97 minutes.

“Hopefully we can get a good balance between the two. That’s what we have been working on in training and hopefully we can show that.

“The players have learnt a bit from the June experience where we felt, although it was backs to the wall a little bit, we stayed in the game for a long time. If we can do that at Hampden we think we have got the players who can cause Belgium some problems.”

Clarke confident Scotland players can handle expectations ahead of Belgium clash PLZ Soccer
Kenny McLean could start (Ian Rutherford/PA)

Clarke is set to make changes although a hamstring problem is likely to keep Steven Naismith out of contention and Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack has a knee injury.

“With two games coming in such a short space of time against high-quality opposition, there’s players in the squad who will get a chance to play,” said Clarke, who previously hinted that Kenny McLean and Ryan Christie could start.