STEVE Clarke last night insisted Scotland have “a lot to be happy about” despite crashing out of Euro 2020 after a 3-1 defeat to Croatia – but admitted his side will need to improve in every area if they want to compete at the highest level in international football in the future.

The national team, who needed to win at Hampden to clinch a place in the knockout rounds for the first time in their history, fought back bravely after falling behind to a Nikola Vlasic goal in the first-half and levelled through Callum McGregor three minutes before half-time.

But outstanding strikes from Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic ensured it was the Russa 2018 finalists who went through as runners-up in their section as their opponents finished bottom with just a point to show for their efforts.

There were huge hopes among the members of the Tartan Army who were allowed in to the stadium that their heroes could progress to the last 16 and their hopes were ultimately dashed in cruel fashion.

It was a sad end to the tournament for Scotland, but their manager was still proud of his charges, who drew 0-0 with tournament favourites England at Wembley on Friday night, and predicted that good times lie ahead for them in future.

“I’m disappointed the tournament has ended early for us,” he said. “But we have a lot to be happy about.

“The way we got there after 23 years gives us a lot to be happy about as well as the way we approached the tournament.

“We tried to compete and play as well as we could. But unfortunately we weren’t quite good enough to get out of the group stage and into the knockout round.

“I’m hoping the players take what they saw from Croatia tonight who had that third-game experience at a tournament. They were more ready for it than we were.

“We just couldn’t hit the levels we hit on Friday against England. So there is lots to learn from everybody. The head coach included.

“The Croatians were good on the night and deserved to win. We gave what we could but it wasn’t enough.”

Clarke added: “At the moment it’s just disappointment we are out I feel, we wanted to stay in as long as we could. Disappointed we haven’t managed to get out of the group stage. You have to give me tonight to get over that, and then a few days.

“We will all sit down and take stock and look at our performances. I will look at my performance and the performance of the players and we will look at what we can do better in the future. And we’ll make sure it’s not 23 years before we go to the next tournament.”

Scotland, who failed to net against the Czech Republic and England, once again created good scoring opportunities in the final third of the park against, but only McGregor could find the target.

Clarke is confident that his strikers Che Adams, Lyndon Dykes and Kevn Nisbet, who are all in their first season of international football, will become more clinical as they gain experience.

However, he confessed that he was disappointed that his men allowed the Czechs to score twice and the Croats to net three times and vowed to make the national team more difficult to beat during their Qatar 2022 campaign.  

“When you look  across the tournament we certainly had enough shots, we created enough chances,” he said. “It’s something we have to work on.

But the players will get better and better at it. Lyndon is a relatively new international player. Che is the same. We can improve on it.

“Kevin will get better the more he is involved and we have players that can score goals from midfield as Callum scored tonight.”

Clarke continued: “Listen, we have to get better at everything, we have also conceded a number of goals in the tournament that I think were preventable so we have to get better in every department.

“We have improved a lot in the two years I have been head coach. That’s my belief. Others might disagree, but I think we have improved a lot.

“What we have to do is keep improving and keep getting better and better to make sure we don’t have to wait so long to qualify for the next tournament.”

Scotland were without Billy Gilmour, who returned a positive Covid-19 test on Monday, and failed to perform as well as they had in the 0-0 draw with England at Wembley on Friday night.

Clarke felt that Croatia, who killed them off with second-half Modric and Perisic goals, had to take credit for their display.

“We tried manfully to get a grip of things,” he said. “We had a little spell just before we got the goal and just after it where we looked as though we might get something out of the game. We had some moments earlier when we managed to play some football and play through them.

“But overall Croatia were the better team on the night. And sometimes you just have to accept that. We tried as hard as we could. We tried to find a way back in even at 2-1 down. But we conceded a third goal from a set play which was disappointing. But we kept going until the end and kept working.

“I think it’s obviously a compliment to Croatia as well they put us under a lot of pressure. We couldn’t quite get our passing going as well as we did the last time. We tried to play through them at times and couldn’t quite do it. The times we did do it, we looked a threat.

“It’s something we have to keep working on, something we have to keep getting better at and hopefully we can do that sooner rather than later.”