Not for almost two decades will Scotland have been so close to qualifying for a major tournament. Their qualification campaign through the orthodox process, through the group stage, was something of a disaster, with hopes effectively ended as soon as defeat to Kazakhstan was suffered in the opening fixture, but by virtue of the inaugural Nations League Scotland still have a good chance of making Euro 2020.
Indeed, just two matches separate Scotland from their first major tournament in 22 years with March’s semi-final clash with Israel set to be the national team’s biggest game in a generation. That will be usurped just days later if Scotland make the final, where they will face either Norway or Serbia away from home (Scotland are 3/1 to qualify for Euro 2020).
Scotland’s date with destiny is still months away, but their preparations are already fraying around the edges. Injuries to key players over the busy festive period surely has Steve Clarke in despair. Scotland were already up against it, with Norway and Serbia a particularly tough draw, but their chances of qualification have been hit even further.
Scott McTominay is expected to be sidelined for both playoff matches with the Manchester United midfielder suffering a knee injury that will keep him out of action for club and country for “months.” Even if McTominay does recover in time to make Clarke’s squad, he will be coming into these crucial games from a standing start.
McTominay hasn’t always been certain of his place in the Scotland team since breaking into the national team fold a couple years ago, but his recent form means he surely would have started against Israel. Clarke must now find someone to compensate for the drive that will be lost through the Man Utd midfielder’s absence.
Even more crippling for Scotland is the injury to John McGinn. The Aston Villa man suffered a fractured ankle over the festive period with the initial diagnosis showing that he will be out of action for three months at the very least. This is catastrophic news for Clarke given how McGinn has became Scotland’s most important player over 2019.
To truly grasp McGinn’s importance Scotland’s lack of a reliable goalscorer to lead the line must be understood. With Leigh Griffiths still struggling for game time at Celtic and with Oli McBurnie seemingly lacking the skill set to perform the lone frontman role for his country, Clarke has relied on McGinn to provide goal threat as something of a secondary forward. McGinn has six goals in his last six appearances for Scotland and it’s not clear who will replace that lost potency with the 25-year-old now out for the foreseeable future. Stuart Armstrong is perhaps the obvious candidate, but he doesn’t have McGinn’s finishing instinct in front of goal.
Then there’s Kieran Tierney. Of course, the full back hasn’t been a part of the Scotland squad for some time due to injury struggles dating back to his final days at Celtic, but Clarke must have hoped that the £25 million defender would be available for the Euro 2020 playoffs when they came around. Now, Tierney is sidelined with a shoulder injury and faces a race against time to make the Israel game (Scotland are 9/10 to win their semi final).
These are three players operating at a high level in the Premier League, three players Clarke will have to build around if Scotland are to stand any chance of become a force in the international game again. McGinn and McTominay in particular are a significant part of Scotland’s spine and without them there’s a risk they will be spineless. And hopeles