AFTER almost a fortnight away with Scotland, the elation of winning the Euro 2020 play-off on penalties and the disappointment of missing out on a possible Qatar 2022 play-off spot, Steve Clarke is in urgent need of some rest and recuperation.

“It’s been a very intense 10 days,” he said yesterday as he looked back on the international break. “I’ll go home and probably sleep for three days. I’ll take the time to relax and reintroduce myself to my wife, children and grandchildren. That’s my first step.”

When he has regained his equilibrium, though, Clarke will reflect on the national team’s epic achievement of reaching their first major tournament since France ’98 with a sense of pride.

He will, too, look ahead to the next challenge, making it through to the World Cup finals in two years’ time, with anticipation.

“I’ve not really had time to sit and analyse things,” he said. “When I came in I spoke about the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup in 1990 as a player. Does this make up for it? I don’t know.

“It’s a different kind of feeling as a manager. I am sure we will enjoy it in the coming weeks. Ask me again after the World Cup draw in December and I might have an answer by then.

“I don’t think we really appreciated the feeling back home. Being such a long way away the whole time, we’d only get little snippets of it. But we know we accomplished something big last Thursday.”

The narrow 1-0 losses to Slovakia in Trnava on Sunday afternoon and Israel in Netanya on Wednesday evening might have meant that Scotland returned home on a low.

They spurned the chance to top Group B2 and now don’t have a potential play-off place to fall back on if they fail to finish in the top two in their Qatar 2022 qualifying section.

However, Clarke believes the strides forward made by the national team, whose dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Serbia in the play-off final last week stretched their unbeaten run to nine games, in the past 13 months have still been significant.

He is certain the feelgood factor from their momentous triumph in Belgrade will still be there in abundance when they next take to the field.

Clarke added: “Listen, as a group of professionals we were disappointed we couldn’t give the nation another lift by getting the points we needed to be top of the Nations League section.

“There was small disappointment, but we have to remember this group of players have come a long way in just over a year. It’s important to remember that and stay positive for the World Cup qualifiers in March.”

Scotland will find out who they will face in their Qatar 2022 qualifying group when the UEFA draw is made in Zurich on December 7.

Clarke feels that Andy Robertson and his team mates will approach the three matches they play before the Euro 2020 finals in June fancying their chances of victory regardless of who they are pitted against.

“The play-off route via the Nations League has gone – we’ll just need to qualify from the group,” he said. “That has got to be the aim.

“We are hoping for a nice draw. It’s a bit unusual to have qualifiers before then going to the Euros, but there’s no reason we can’t go in to these games with a lot of confidence and belief.

“This job is a different type of challenge to when I first came in. It’s always a challenge if you want to improve. We want to go and compete in these games.”

The eagerness of all of Scotland’s players to be involved with their country – something that was not always the case under his predecessors - has pleased Clarke immensely and he anticipates having a difficult task selecting his final squad for Euro 2020.

“I have a group of players who want to improve,” he said. “They want to be here. Israel was our third game in less than a week and every single player was fit and available for selection. That’s probably the first time that’s ever happened.

“There will be a fight to be in the 23 this summer. That is what we want, that is the target for them. They are all going back to their clubs, but they’ll need to play well and stay fit and healthy.

“Of course we are thinking about the summer, but the next stage for them is these qualifiers in March. That’s the road I’m going down.”

Scotland’s lack of ruthlessness up front – they were the better side against both Slovakia and Israel, but failed to make the most of the scoring opportunities they created in the final third and paid the price for that – will have to be addressed if they are to do well in both the Euro 2020 finals and Qatar 2022 qualifying.

However, the improvement the national team has made defensively since switching to a back three in August has been encouraging. They have conceded just five goals in the eight matches they have played in the 2020/21 campaign. Last term they shipped 12 in six.

Steve Clarke has repeatedly stressed in recent days that Scotland are a work in progress. Much remains to be done. But if they can build on what they have done to date then supporters can look forward to a bright future.