SCOTLAND might be on the cusp of clinching an automatic spot at the Euro 2024 finals in Germany next summer after winning their opening five qualifiers for the first time in their history.

And the national team may just require a draw and solitary point from their next Group A match against Spain in Seville a week today to secure their place at another major tournament.

Yet, a player who has never featured at senior level for this country, and could potentially never pull on a dark blue jersey in future, continues to be a major focus of attention.

The omission of Elliot Anderson, the Newcastle United midfielder who was called up by manager Steve Clarke for the first time last month, from the Scotland squad yesterday led to a flurry of questions about his intentions.

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Clarke, understandably given the importance of the encounter with Spain in the Estadio La Cartuja de Sevilla, bristled visibly as he was grilled by the media about the talented 20-year-old at Hampden.

He defended his handling of the pursuit of a player who has also attracted the interest of his England counterpart Gareth Southgate and denied he had applied too much pressure on Anderson.

“I spoke to Elliot in March, or before the March camp,” he said. “He said he wanted time to think about it. I spoke to him in June. Again, he said he wanted time to think about it. 

“Then a third party contacted me in August and said Elliot wanted to come with Scotland. So there was no pressure from us.”

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Anderson, who has firmly established himself in Eddie Howe’s first team at St James’s Park in the past two seasons despite his age, withdrew from the Scotland squad before the Euro 2024 qualifier against Cyprus after suffering a minor injury in training.

That led to speculation the former Scotland youth internationalist, whose paternal grandmother comes from Glasgow, had not felt comfortable within the set-up and had opted to switch his allegiances to the land of his birth.

Clarke, as he has done previously with Che Adams, Lyndon Dykes, Angus Gunn and Harvey Barnes during his four year tenure, will give the youngster the space which he needs to arrive at what is a major career decision.

“That one has just been left as is,” he said. “He’s a young man who’s obviously got a big decision to make. He’s gone away and decided, having said he wanted to come up and be a part of it, that he wants to have a think about it a bit further. Let’s let the young man make his decision.” 

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Another big name not included in the 25 man squad for the forthcoming games against Spain and France was that of Kieran Tierney.

The Arsenal defender, who has joined Real Sociedad on loan until the end of the season, suffered a hamstring injury which is set to sideline him for several months in a La Liga match against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

Clarke is bitterly disappointed for the 41-times capped 26-year-old and conceded the absence of a £25m player would be keenly felt against Spain. 

“In the system we play, Kieran is quite influential,” he said. “He does a lot defensively and in an attacking sense too. We’ll miss that. But the biggest disappointment is for Kieran himself. Having got the move to Spain and having started so well for Sociedad, he then picks up an injury which looks as though it’s quite nasty.

“He’s going to be out for a length of time. That’s a shame for Kieran. But I had a brief text conversation with him and he’s okay. He’s getting his head around it and he promises me he’ll be ready for Germany next summer if we need him.”

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Clarke has played with a 3-4-3, a 3-4-2-1 and a 5-3-2 formation during the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign to date and deployed Tierney on the left side of a back three and his captain Andy Robertson at left wing back.

Could he revert to the 4-2-3-1 which he used to great effect in the Nations League matches against Ukraine and the Republic of Ireland this time last year when Robertson was sidelined against Spain? It would be a gamble to change things in such an important game. But there is every chance.

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“It’s always a possibility,” he said. “I never set it in stone that we’d play with a five. You have to look at the opposition and at the amount of time we’ve got on the training pitch.

“With it being a Thursday game, it’s a little more difficult to get time on the training pitch than if it’s on a Saturday, when you get more time to work on certain things. But playing with a back four is definitely an option.

“The vast majority of players play in a back four with their clubs. I don’t think too many play in a back five, so they’re used to it. If we decided to go with a back four it would mean we can get an extra body in the midfield area, which might help us. So I’ve got quite a lot to discuss with John Carver (the Scotland assistant).”

Scotland’s glorious winning run came to an end at Hampden last month when they slumped to a 3-1 defeat to England in the 150th Anniversary Heritage Match – but Clarke is hopeful his charges will have learned invaluable lessons about facing world-class opponents which will stand them in good stead in Seville.

“There were bits of the game that were good, especially in the second half,” he said. “We have to do that earlier in the game when the speed of the game is high and the pressure from the opposition is high. We have to still find a way to retain possession of the ball. And we need to try and create chances.

“England don’t give many chances away, but we got into quite a lot of goof forward areas without finding the last bit, the last pass. I felt we didn’t attack the box well enough as we had done previously. So there are some things to work on. That’s why we took the game.”

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