AS the first match of the Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign has drawn closer, Steve Clarke has found getting a good night’s rest to be increasingly problematic.

The Scotland manager has lain awake working out the make-up of the Austria side that will take to the field at Hampden this evening, weighing up what his own strongest line-up is, contemplating what formation to go with. 

It has not been conducive to quality shut eye.

Being informed how poorly Scotland have performed in their opening qualifiers since they last made it through to the World Cup way back in 1997 – they have won just three out of 11 – yesterday will have done nothing to alleviate his insomnia. 

Glasgow Times:

“You’ve probably just taken another two hours off my sleep with that news because I didn’t know that,” he said. “I’m not getting six hours a night anyway, thinking about my team and my selection, and that’s just chopped it down to four.”

Clarke is acutely aware that beating Austria, who will have their sizeable Bundesliga contingent available to them after Germany relaxed their coronavirus quarantine rules, in their first Group F game tonight is vital. 

READ MORE: How Paul Lambert's insider information helped Scotland beat Austria and take a huge stride towards France '98

“A good start is important,” he said. “Obviously without putting too much pressure on ourselves, we want to start the group well. We won’t know until the end of the campaign what a good points total will be so it’s important we don’t put ourselves under too much pressure.

“But of course a winning start would be good, especially because we’re playing a team seeded above us. Austria are seeded to finish second in the group so if we got a good start against them that would hopefully set us up for a good campaign.”

Glasgow Times:

The 57-year-old, whose Scotland players secured their place in the Euro 2020 finals with their nail-biting penalty shoot-out play-off final win over Serbia in Belgrade back in November, has no intention of leaving it so long to make it through to a major tournament again.

“We want to be consistently successful,” he said. “We don’t just want to qualify for one tournament, rest on our laurels then wait another 23 years. I will be in my 80s if we have to wait that long. 

“I would much rather qualify for the next one coming up, so that is the target. The target is Qatar 2022. It would be special for everybody.”

Glasgow Times:

Clarke is certainly confident that the national team are well placed to build on their momentous achievement in their first three Group F matches against Austria, Israel and the Faroe Islands. 

He confessed the loss of Ryan Jack of Rangers, who started in the play-off semi-final and final, to injury was disappointing. But he can move Scott McTominay, who has been excellent for Manchester United this term, from defence into his favoured position in midfield. Kenny McLean, who has spearheaded Norwich’s promotion push, could also come in.

Lyndon Dykes, the Australian-born forward who acquitted himself so well in the play-off semi-final and final after committing himself to Scotland last year, appears to have rediscovered his best form at an opportune moment. 

Glasgow Times:

“Lyndon came a long way in a short space of time,” said Clarke. “He left Livingston and got his move to QPR. Big upheaval, moving down south with his family, game after game after game in the English Championship. I know how difficult the Championship is, it’s an absolute grind.

“I think eventually he just needed a little rest and to be fair to Mark Warburton at QPR he must have recognised that because he left him out of the side for a few games. Lyndon has come back a little bit more refreshed in his last couple of club games.

READ MORE: Kevin Gallacher: Matt Elliott, Don Hutchison and Neil Sullivan were committed to Scotland - Che Adams will be too

“He got Man of the Match in the 3-2 game on the Wednesday and backed that up with a goal  before he came to join up with us. He has looked lively and sharp in training. Competition for places is great, it makes everybody step up a little bit.

“He’s a good character, Lyndon. He is comfortable in the squad, I think you saw that right from the start. He has always been comfortable on the international scene and he has a lot to offer going forward. I said when we brought him in that it would be good for the national team and so far that has been proven.”

Glasgow Times:

Still, the lack of a cutting edge in the final third led to Scotland losing their final two Nations League games against Slovakia and Israel away last year by 1-0 scorelines.

Clarke, who has called up Che Adams and Kevin Nisbet and has Ryan Fraser available again, is optimistic that will not be a problem during this triple header.

READ MORE: Stuart Armstrong on how he helped his Southampton team mate Che Adams become a Scot

“Ryan Christie scored the goal in Serbia so don’t forget Ryan,” he said. “Stuart Armstrong is an attacking midfield player who has been outstanding. So we have players that can score goals. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. 

“If you look at the two games (after Serbia) we lost 1-0 at the end of the last Nations League campaign. You can’t say we didn’t create chances. We did create chances and if we can continue to create chances the goals will come, of that I’m sure.”

Glasgow Times:

Scotland will need to be clinical against Franco Foda’s side if they want to get three points on the board straight away.

“They are seeded above us in the group, so straight away that should tell you they are a good team,” said Clarke. “And they are a good team. They probably rely more on their strength as a team. They work well together, their shape is good, their press is good. 

 “They are athletic and have some star names as well, which is always good if you want to be a top side. You need one or two who have that little bit of magic. We expect a tough game and I’m sure they will be expecting a tough game from us as well.”

He continued: “I didn’t get too carried away with their German players being ruled out, because you know the quarantine rules are changing all the time. Countries are going on and off the red list or whatever. 

“We knew there was a possibility it would change and we prepared only for their strongest team. That’s what will be on the pitch at Hampden. It will be their strongest team and we will have a strong team as well, so it should be a decent game.”