Steve Clarke has dismissed the idea that Scotland are already playing World Cup qualification catch-up just two games along the road to Qatar.
And the national coach believes turning the draws they got against their play-off rivals Austria and Israel into victories when next they meet will put the Scots in a “very strong position” in Group F.
Even glass half-full Clarke knows that beating the Faroe Islands on Wednesday night in the last match of this month’s triple-header is non-negotiable.
But, if the five-point mark is reached as expected, the top half of the table picture will not be the cause of sleepless nights.
Four is going to be Scotland’s magic number moving forward.
Reach that points total in the head-to-heads against Austria and Israel when the campaign resumes after the European Championships and the play-off place will almost certainly be theirs. Reach it against favourites Denmark, and they could even yet finish top.
This team will grow again before we return to the World Cup campaign.
“I like that way of thinking because it’s absolutely correct,” said Clarke, who is putting a strong emphasis on the development he anticipates in a group of players on the verge of getting tournament finals experience for the first time.
“Four points from Israel and Austria would put us in a very strong position and that’s exactly what we’ll look to achieve.
“But people have to remember this team of ours is still growing. The more experience the players get the better they’ll be.
“The next round of World Cup matches is still five months away from now and we can do a lot more growing over that time. We’ll have at least three matches to play in the Euros and hopefully maybe even more.
“So this team will grow again before we return to the World Cup campaign and that could be hugely significant in terms of our development.
“There has to come a moment in time where we believe we are good enough to go and take points from the pot one teams and hopefully that’s going to be the case in this campaign.
“I believe the players are good enough to do that already but they have to believe more in themselves. If they grow more over the next few months and prove to themselves what they can do at the Euros then we might be in a very different place when the World Cup qualifiers come back around.”
Clarke lauded his team’s response to going behind in Tel Aviv, as they did (twice) in the group opener against Austria. Starting faster and taking control is a short-term and essential target for Scotland.
SCOTLAND PULL LEVEL! 🏴
Ryan Fraser finishes from the edge of the box.
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— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 28, 2021
“It was one point more than we managed to get the last two times we have been in Israel so let’s take the positive from that,” said Clarke.
“I wasn’t happy with the way we started the game because I felt we never really got a grip of it in the first half hour. I thought we had weathered the storm before half-time and the changes I made at break were already in my mind.
“I thought it was a good performance in the second half and once again the players showed their character to get the goal and get back into the match.
“But if we are going to improve the way we want to, then we need to be good enough to get a grip of these games from the start and score the first goal ourselves. That’s what I’m looking for.
“When we played Israel last November we lost the first goal again and ended up having to chase the game after that. But we couldn’t get the goal back.
“So I’m looking at the positives because this time we were able to do that. But I believe we can be better than that and we will be better than that as the team develops.
“Now we have to look forward to the Faroes on Wednesday night and make sure we get that first win under our belts.”
Everybody wants to judge things in an instant.
Clarke believes considered reflection supports the ‘no panic’ mindset for his unbeaten Scotland side.
“Everybody gets a wee bit carried away in the heat of the moment,” he said. “Everybody wants to judge things in that instant. It’s just the way things are.
“But that’s not the way I look at things. From our perspective, it’s going to be a long group and there are lots of points still to play for, starting with the Faroes on Wednesday night.
“If we get to the end of the first week with five points from our first three games then we can all sit down, look at the table and take stock.
“Don’t forget. Denmark now have to play Austria so something has got to give there. So let’s not get involved in knee jerk reactions. Let’s wait and see how the table is looking when the first round of games are over and then we will be able to see what we have to do.”
Clarke’s optimism, he would say realism, would of course come crumbling down around him if the midweek match at Hampden produces anything other than a home win.
The Faroe Islands taking the lead in Austria on Sunday should help focus minds as should Ireland losing to Luxembourg the night before.
"The gloom really does deepen for Ireland now…"
Oh dear 😬 Republic of Ireland concede an 85th minute goal to Luxembourg.
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— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 27, 2021
“You have to understand that these teams are now far better organised and more difficult to break down than they used to be a few years ago,” said Clarke.
“Just look at the problems Spain had against Georgia. I’m told they needed a winner in the 93rd minute so that just goes to prove that all these games are difficult. Then you just have to look at Slovakia drawing 2-2 at home to Malta the other night.
“The Faroes also took the lead against Austria so we know we can afford to take them lightly. But, at the same time, we do understand that it’s a game we have to win.”