THE Scotland players who will take to the field to face Croatia in their final Euro 2020 group match at Hampden tonight need no additional motivation to perform to the very best of their abilities.

Victory over the Russia 2018 finalists in front of their home supporters will secure a place in the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time in the national team’s history.

If they are unable to lift themselves for such a momentous occasion they should really think about changing profession.

Still, Andy Robertson and his team mates were yesterday given an extra incentive to get the better of Luka Modric and his compatriots and book a last 16 spot when Billy Gilmour was ruled out by a positive coronavirus test. 

If they triumph it will mean the Chelsea midfielder, who was the outstanding performer in their 0-0 draw with England at Wembley on Friday night, could potentially feature again at Euro 2020.

The 20-year-old will have to self-isolate for 10 days – but he will be available for selection for the quarter-finals next week if Scotland are still involved. 

Steve Clarke admitted that his charges had all been bitterly disappointed for his fellow Ayrshireman when they learned about his misfortune and predicted they will be determined to lift his spirits by going through.  

“The players don’t need any added motivation,” he said. “But this is a very tight knit group. They know if we can progress far enough into the tournament then they can welcome Billy back into the squad. That would be fantastic.

“But the first step to doing that is to make sure we go out tomorrow and play as well as we can. We have to find our top performance level and hope it’s enough to get us the three points against a team that was in the last World Cup final.

“Listen, this is a big game so let’s not lose focus on where we are and what we’ve done to get here, including the point we got at Wembley the other night. What we have to do now is make sure that Billy’s good performance against England doesn’t go to waste.”

Clarke declined to divulge how he will compensate for the loss of Gilmour. Will he bring back Stuart Armstrong, who started against the Czech Republic and came on against England, alongside Callum McGregor? Will he move Scott McTominay from centre half back into midfield? Or will he do something else? He was giving nothing away.

However, he is confident Scotland will cope whatever route he decides to go down after being bowled over by the quality of training the players who were not involved in London on Friday night produced at their base outside Darlington on Sunday. 

“I do have good options,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the squad we have here. That’s actually one of the things I was going to use as part of my build up to the Croatia game.

“We had a recovery day after the game at Wembley and two recovery days for the boys who played. So in the Sunday session we had the 13 boys who weren’t involved against England.

“The standard was of such an unbelievable quality that I was thinking: ‘Oh my God, these boys didn’t even get on the pitch against England!’ That’s the strength of the group that we have now. We have a fantastic group who are all working ever so hard.” 

Clarke continued: “Listen, you don’t get the togetherness, the camaraderie and the type of team performances that we’ve been getting without that kind of effort from the lads who are not getting as many minutes on the pitch.

“I felt fantastic after I watched that training session. They were absolutely outstanding and that’s what gives me hope that, no matter who I pick, he’ll come into the team and do fine. That’s what we want.”

Some pundits have suggested that Croatia, who lost to England in their opening game and then drew with the Czechs, are in decline. Modric is 35 now and nearing the end of his stellar career. Clarke, though, is in no doubt about the calibre of the opposition they will face. 

“You’re talking about a team that played in the last World Cup final,” he said. “They have quality players, but they are obviously looking for a little spark in the tournament.

“They are good players, make no mistake about it. They are going to cause us a lot of problems tomorrow night. We’re going to have to play our best game. We’re going to have to play as well as we can to get the result we want.

“People may say they are past their peak, but they always qualify for tournaments, have top, top players in their team and we need to respect them as we do with all our opponents.

“Then we have to go out there and find a way to beat them because, as much as they want to make it to the knockout stages, so do we.

“Croatia will have enough legs in their team, don’t worry about that. It’s a big game, they are professionals and they know better than us what it takes to get into the knockout stages of a major tournament because they’ve been there before and we haven’t. They are wily old foxes but we’re ready for them.”

The wiliest fox in the Croatia team remains, despite his advancing years, Real Madrid superstar Modric. Clarke appreciates the 140-times capped midfielder can inflict serious damage on his side’s hopes of going through if he is given time and space on the ball. But he has faith in his charges despite the serious setback they have suffered. 

“Modric is such a clever player that if you tried to man mark him I’m sure he’d find a way round it,” he said. “So we’ve got to look for the nearest person to him to be the first man to make the press on him. Hopefully that can keep him under control.

“I’m sure, with a player of that quality, it’s going to be difficult to keep him under control for the full 95 minutes or whatever it is. But we’ll do our best.”