STEVE Clarke tonight admitted that leaving Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon and Rangers centre half John Souttar out of his 26 man Scotland squad for the Euro 2024 finals had been difficult and emotional for him - but stressed he is happy with the players he is taking to Germany.

Clarke had to cut two members from the provisional squad he selected for the warm-up games against Gibraltar and Finland before the UEFA deadline at 11pm tonight and it was Gordon and Souttar who both missed out.   

He revealed that Gordon, who came on in the second half of the 2-2 draw with Finland at Hampden this evening, has missed out because of his lack of game time at club level during the past two seasons.

But he joked the 41-year-old, who became the oldest Scotland player ever when he replaced Angus Gunn, will be determined to come back in future and add to his haul of 75 caps.

“It was a really tough decision to leave Craig out,” he said. “But over the period of time he’s been back, he hadn’t become the No.1 at Hearts again. He’s only played seven games since December 2022, it’s a long time. And there is the dynamic of the squad, three goalkeepers together.

“It was a tough conversation with Craig, emotional to be honest. But it’s a mark of the man that he’s here tonight. I would have understood if he didn’t want to. But I wanted to give him the 75th cap. Within one hour of telling him the news, he was down having dinner with the lads, in the meetings.

“At the end of the game, we gave him a little award signed by all the lads, 75 on the back of his jersey. I said, ‘I know Craig will throw this back in my face, that 76, 77, 80 is coming’.”

Clarke continued: “Again, it was emotional with John. It’s really difficult to imagine how difficult it is to sit down with people who have given their best, always, and tell them that they’ve just missed out. The conversations were face to face this time.

“I’m pleased that I made the decision to bring a slightly bigger squad. I got the chance to look the boys in the eye, they could look me in the eye. They understand how difficult it is for me  and I understand how difficult it is for them.”

Clarke was pleased with the Scotland performance against Finland even though they squandered a two goal lead in the final 20 minutes and were held to a 2-2 draw in their final warm-up match before they play hosts Germany in the Euro 2024 opener in Munich next Friday night.  

“It was a good exercise,” he said. “Up until the head coach started to make changes for no apparent reason it was really good! We had started to earmark those who needed to come off. Andy was a bit nauseous at half-time, but I kept him on to get a couple of goals in front.

“When you get ahead, you start thinking about Sunday, travelling to Germany. Look at the England result (Gareth Southgate’s side lost 1-0 to Iceland at Wembley), these games are difficult.

“We’ve got some bumps and bruises in the dressing room. But I would like to think we’ve no more injuries to worry about. But it’s been a bad week, so I’ll wait until we see tomorrow. I like a balanced squad and I think I’ve picked a balanced squad.”

Clarke handed Bristol City striker Tommy Conway, who was called up as a replacement for Lyndon Dykes this week, his debut in the second-half and the youngster almost netted the winner in injury-time.

“Tommy should have scored,” he said. “He said he’s saving his goals for Germany, which is fine. I think the team is in a good place. We know what we have within our group. We know the build-up games and difficult friendlies, we picked them so they understand how good they have to be in this tournament. We’ll have a day off, prepare for Gemany.”

Neither Che Adams or Scott McTominay played against Finland, but Clarke is hopeful that the pair will be fit to face Germany in the Allianz Arena in Munich next Friday night.