QUITE when Scotland will be able to take on Israel in their Euro 2020 play-off semi-final remains clouded in uncertainty despite UEFA provisionally and unrealistically pencilling in a June date for the fixture earlier this week.

With the coronavirus pandemic that has brought football across the world to a standstill not expected to peak in the United Kingdom until the end of May or middle of June, it is impossible to say when the domestic programme, never mind the international one, will resume.

Steve Clarke and his players were set to meet up this weekend – and the stooshie about whether Ladbrokes Premiership fixtures should be moved to give them more time to prepare for the match is utterly insignificant now – to start preparations for the match at Hampden on Thursday.

Instead, they will all remain at home, unsure when they will be able to play competitively once again, in the dark about when the fixture will take place.

Yet, Alex McLeish, who secured the play-off place by leading the national team to top spot in League C Group 1 with thrilling victories over Albania and Israel back in 2018, is confident Clarke’s men will be able to win it and then progress to their first finals since France ’98 whenever the match finally does go ahead.

McLeish, who was replaced as manager after a catastrophic defeat to Kazakhstan a year ago today in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier and subsequent unconvincing win over minnows San Marino, saw definite signs of progress in their final three Group I games.

Scotland thrashed San Marino at home, beat Cyprus 2-1 away and then defeated Kazakhstan 3-1 on their own turf to ensure they finished in third place in their section and went into the play-offs.

“You can see the momentum Stevie got in the last three games and it is about taking that forward into the Israel game,” said McLeish. “The last Israel game at Hampden was fantastic. If we can get more of that type of attacking performance there is no reason why we can’t win.”

McLeish was denied the services of Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths, who was taking an extended sabbatical from football to deal with personal issues, in the two Euro 2020 qualifiers he took charge of. He is confident his successor Clarke will benefit from having the striker, who has netted eight goals in 13 appearances this year, involved.

“Griffiths is renowned for his finishing and his form last time around, when he was in the team, as we know was of the highest standard,” he said. “Look at his goals against England. So to lose guys like that one way or another made things much more difficult.”

Steven Fletcher, who hasn’t featured under Clarke, started up front in the wins over Albania and Israel that clinched the play-off place. McLeish is optimistic the vastly-experienced Sheffield Wednesday forward will be involved in the next Israel match as well.

“One of the significant things for me about those games was having Fletcher up front,” he said. “He was a focal point who brought everybody else into play. It was the missing link. Let’s hope he does come back.”

McLeish handed Oliver McBurnie, who was on loan at Championship club Barnsley at the time, his Scotland debut against Costa Rica, the first match of his second spell in charge of is country, two years ago this month and fielded him regularly thereafter.

He has been pleased to see the Leeds-born forward do well with Sheffield United, who he joined in a record £20m transfer from Swansea last summer, in the Premier League in recent months and help the Bramall Lane club to seventh place. He reckons the experience he has gained in South Yorkshire this season will help him at international level.

“McBurnie should be getting a wee bit more confidence and belief in himself with the fact he has scored a couple of important goals for Sheffield United,” he said.

“We have not had a really young centre forward for a long time. When was the last one to make a big debut and a big impact? I thought he was very unlucky in his first game v Costa Rica when he had three or four chances. With a bit of different technique he might have got himself a goal or two.

“We introduced a lot of young ones and they have learned international football. The first year was quite experimental. But he (McBurinie) is still a young guy who is trying to find the answers. Fletcher is at a stage now where he has got most of them.”

McLeish’s second stint as Scotland manager may have ended in disappointment, but he still looks back on the dramatic 3-2 win over Israel with fondness and justifiable pride and longs to see his old charges replicate their success and go forward to the Euro 2020 finals, which will now be played next summer.

“It was a really, really great game,” he said. “Walter smith phoned me after it to say ‘the way you went for it the whole game was brilliant’. Sometimes as a manager you can be over cautious, but he said that the way the team went for it on the night made it as good a game as he has seen at Hampden in a long time.

“I will be watching the Israel game somewhere when it gets played . . . like Barbados!”