If anyone felt quietly assured of their place for Scotland’s opening game at the European Championships next Monday night against the Czech Republic it would surely be David Marshall. The goalkeeper became the toast of a nation when his dramatic penalty save away back in October from Aleksandar Mitrovic won Steve Clarke’s side a golden ticket to their first major tournament for 23 years. 

Clarke has drafted in a trio of fresh faces to the squad on the back of injury issues with David Turnbull, Billy Gilmour and Nathan Patterson all introduced to the squad. But it is the tried and tested that are expected to form the significant spine of Scotland’s campaign. Still, though, there is no guarantee that even hero status might guarantee anything.  

Clarke certainly wasn’t willing to offer any clues and there was a little intrigue as he was quizzed about just who will be handed the gloves following Craig Gordon’s recent re-emergence. Marshall has played only 4 starts for Derby in the last 3 months; injury curtailed his involvement before he was dropped by manager Wayne Rooney for the final weeks of the season.   

“I haven’t got any 100% decisions in my mind,” he said. “I’m going to keep an open mind over the next few days, the game and the camp leading into it. I’m not going to tie things down in terms of ‘this is the way I’m going to go.’ All the lads have been fantastic in training. This camp has been a bit of an eye-opener in terms of how good they have been. They’ve been absolutely fantastic. I think you saw a bit of that in the Holland performance and hopefully you see a bit more [tonight] against Luxembourg. It has been a pleasure to be the head coach and watch these training sessions.

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“What I have said is that the quality of the training has been outstanding. Everyone who has been here has done themselves a favour.  Nobody has come here and trained their way out of contention, that’s for sure.” 

The opening game against the Czechs is significant in that it will shape and set the tone for a demanding group. England will be next up at Wembley before the final group game against Croatia. There is a feeling that relief was the dominant emotion within the squad and the country after breaking the long hiatus from being involved at a major tournament although Clarke and the players have inevitably making noises they won’t be there just to make up the numbers.

Certainly, on that front there was much to be encouraged about in the midweek draw with Holland, a draw that would have been a win but for a soft free-kick call. But of note in recent performances has been the balance that Clarke has successfully mined from a back three that has Kieran Tierney on the left-side with Andy Robertson in his more traditional wing-back role. 

It appears to have solved the persistent issue of getting the best out of both players without compromising either. Tierney’s tenacity in defence has been married to his innate forward instincts whenever the team are on the move while it is equally worth a mention that those decades when Scotland were frequent representatives at tournaments came when they had a clutch of players who were all performing at elite level. 

Scotland can boast two Champions League winners among their ranks as the tournament prepares to open. Scott McTominay ought to have scorched any ideas about a defensive role on the back of his display in the Europa League final and players exposed to that level will only enhance the overall quality of the national side. Fingers pointed at the likes of Robertson for not replicating club form at international level surely always had a fairly obvious answer in that the company kept in both squads varied significantly. Elevating the standard within the national side avoids putting too much pressure on individuals to be seen as world-beaters.  

“It’s a sign that the team and the squad is improving,” said Clarke of the performance against Holland.  You are always trying to tweak and do things a little bit different. And we want to be competitive in the tournament. 

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“The way we played the other night will give a chance to be competitive – if we can repeat that.  You always have to respect the quality of the opposition. We will go into the group as the fourth seeds, not expected to finish anywhere except bottom of the section.  But we have to go in with our mentality, and that is to get as many good performances as we can, three hopefully that will get us enough points to get out of the group.  We can’t be worrying too much about what has happened at previous tournaments. We can only affect the here and now, not what has happened in the past. 

“The players know the quality we have within our squad. It’s nice to have that reaffirmed against one of the top teams. Listen, it was a pre-tournament friendly and the Dutch tinkered a little bit with their system which probably took a little bit out of their rhythm. Without taking anything away from us, because we were good, we are not getting carried away with it.

“We have a lot of boys in the squad who play for big clubs but are absolutely proud and determined to do well for their country.  That’s where you want to be. The more success we get as a group the better that will become. We have the young ones coming into the group and you want them to develop the hunger for the next tournament.  Then the same again – you want to be chasing down all the tournaments. Hopefully that will come with time.” 

Grant Hanley or Scott McKenna could take up the position on the right-hand side of the back three with Clarks unperturbed about deploying a player who is more comfortable with his left-side onto the right. 

“I’m not averse top playing a leftie on the right,” he said. “Everyone seems to get hung up about that but I was a right-footed player and played my first full season at St Mirren at left-back.  It’s something that can happen.  

“Whichever the combination, I know we are improving in that system and I want to get them all a little shot and a feel of being on the pitch. Hopefully we can replicate the way we played the other night.”