THE momentous penalty shoot-out triumph over Serbia in the Euro 2020 play-off final in Belgrade last month finally ended Scotland’s agonising 23 year wait to qualify for the finals of a major tournament.

Steve Clarke, the national team manager, is hopeful the achievement has also increased their chances of reaching Qatar 2022.

Clarke urged caution after his side was placed in Group F alongside Denmark, Austria, Israel, the Faroe Islands and Moldova in the World Cup qualifying draw in Zurich last night.

He conceded that avoiding the likes of Belgium, England, France, Italy or Spain had increased the country’s chances of going through.

But the man who has overseen a dramatic upturn in fortunes since being appointed last year and who masterminded the Serbia victory was at pains to point out that it will still be difficult to make it out of their section.

“If fans want to get excited that’s great,” said Clarke. “Outside, people can get as excited as they want. They can think we’re going to beat everybody and we’ll finish up with however many points it takes to qualify.

“But inside the camp we’ll treat everybody with the same respect. We’ll work as hard as we can and try and get as many points as possible. If that’s enough for us to qualify for Qatar 2022 then that’ll be fantastic. But we won’t be getting carried away as a group.”

Clarke, though, believes the Scotland players will be confident they can either top their section or finish second and clinch a play-off place as a result of their epic Belgrade triumph and Euro 2020 qualification.

“I’d like to think that’ll be the case,” he said. “Obviously it’s taken us a long time to get back to a major tournament. When we get together again in March the events of November will still be in the players’ heads.

“So hopefully they realise how good it feels to qualify for a major tournament and they’ll attack and relish the World Cup campaign the same as they did in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

“It helps that we have belief and experience now. They both come together because the more we play the more experience you get.

“This is a group of players who are starting to accumulate a good number of caps now. They have that experience now of international football, and the experience of qualifying for a major tournament. They know what it takes. They know you have to play well in the big games.”

Clarke continued: “I think the expectation is high because of the teams we’ve got, sure. But also because we’ve done quite well recently. We lost the last two games, but we actually played quite well in the three games in November. As well as the three games in October.

“So, the performances in our last six games have been decent and because of that everyone is in a better state of mind about the international team. That’s great for everybody.”

Scotland beat Israel in the Euro 2020 play-off final and then Serbia in the final behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. Clarke is optimistic that getting some fans back inside grounds will bolster their bid to reach Qatar 2022.

“Hopefully by the time we get to March we’ll have a few supporters inside the stadium with us,” he said. “It’s maybe a little bit too optimistic to expect them to be able to travel to the away games.

“But it would be great to think they’ll all have good feeling about the national team and feel positive that we can get results. It hasn’t always been like that, even in my short reign as the Scotland head coach.”

Clarke changed his formation to a 3-5-1-1 when play resumed after the lockdown and the change in set-up helped Scotland to go on a nine match unbeaten run and clinch their Euro 2020 place.

However, the Slovakia and Israel defeats that followed the win over Serbia underlined to the national manager that much still remains to be done.

“We have got a system that has worked for us in some of the matches,” he said. “But in the last two games we played we lost 1-0. So maybe there is a flaw in the system as well that we need to look at and maybe tweak for certain games. I still think we are a work in progress.

“It was obviously great to get the monkey off our back if you like and qualify for the Euros. But we have done that, that is for the summer, we can look forward to that.

“For now it is for me to assess the opponents, look at them, look at their strengths and weaknesses and decide whether we should play the same system or whether we should play a different system.

“It will all be about getting the result on the day and I want to be in a position where I can play different systems if I have to.”

Clarke confessed he had put the Serbia game to the back of his mind after the last international break ended and stressed he would be focusing fully on the opening Qatar 2022 qualifiers, not the Euro 2020 finals, at the end of March in the coming months.

“I just went home and spent time with my family,” he said. “I didn’t really think about it too much. I’ve got to be honest, I finished the week disappointed because we lost the last two games, but that’s just the life of a football manager. So I’ve not really been basking in it.

“I’m pleased that I’ve got some things to keep me busy over January and February in terms of organisation for the summer. That will free me up to concentrate on the World Cup qualifiers and after that, maybe when we get to April and May, I’ll get the buzz and the excitement. Maybe I’ll realise then just what we have achieved as a group of players.

“But it’s really important we get off to a good start in the World Cup campaign as that should give us good momentum going into the Euros.”