The Steve Clarke Renaissance (2018-2023)

Following Gordon Strachan's departure, the names mentioned for the Scotland manager's job were David Moyes, Paul Lambert, Alex McLeish, and even Sam Allardyce. Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes, and Kilmarnock's Steve Clarke were also mentioned. Following Northern Ireland's defeat in the play-offs, Michael O'Neil became the strong favourite. Following talks with the SFA, he ruled himself out, even although it looked like the SFA had put all their eggs in one basket. Following this, the media was mentioning Walter Smith, but he also ruled himself out. This meant that ex-boss Alex McLeish was appointed on 15th February. McLeish's second tenure started with four defeats out of five, with Scotland only scoring one goal in a 1-0 victory over Hungary. The maiden Nations League started with a 2-0 victory at home to Albania, followed by a humiliating 2-1 defeat to Israel in Haifa. After only 2 competitive matches, fans were already calling for McLeish to go. When the next international break came round, 9 players withdrew from McLeish's squad, making people wonder what was going on with McLeish. An impressive 4-0 victory in Albania meant that Scotland needed a victory at home to Israel. After going behind, a hat trick by James Forrest, which was 5 goals in two games, put Scotland in a strong position. A late goal by Israel made Scotland hold on for a tense last 15 minutes. This lead to qualification for the Euro 2020 playoffs and also promotion to Group B.  Scotland had a disasterous start to the Euro 2020 qualification campaign, with a humiliating 3-0 defeat away to Kazakhstan.  This was followed by an unconvincing 2-0 win in San Marino.  Less than a month later, the SFA decided to end Alex McLeish's second reign as manager.

James Forrest completes his hat-trick against Israel.

Following McLeish's departure, there was talk about a caretaker having to be put in charge for the Cyprus and Belgium qualifiers before the end of the season.  As the fixtures got closer, the three names being linked to the job were Steve Clarke of Kilmarnock, Aberdeen's Derek McInnes, and under-21 coach Scot Gemmill. Steve Clarke was appointed on 20th May, after guiding Kilmarnock to European qualification.

Clarke's reign began with a 2-1 victory at home to Cyprus, followed by a 3-0 defeat away to Belgium. The following season began with a 2-1 defeat at Hampden to Russia, after leading 1-0. This made automatic qualification for Euro 2020 unlikely. Scotland's next two games saw them concede 8 goals and score none. First a 4-0 defeat at home to Belgium, followed by a 4-0 defeat in Moscow, that ended Scotland's automatic qualification chances. A 6-0 victory at home to San Marino followed, with John McGinn scoring a hat-trick. The campaign ended with a 2-1 win in Cyprus, and a 3-1 win over Kazakhstan at Hampden.

Three days after the campaign ended, the draw for the play-offs had Scotland drawn at home to Israel, in a one legged play-off. The winner would then travel to Norway or Serbia, with the winner of that game qualifying for Euro 2020. Ten days before Scotland were due to play Israel, the country went into lockdown on 16th March due to Coronavirus, and all football was suspended. This game was rescheduled to October. The draw for the 2020-21 Nations League saw Scotland drawn with Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Israel, meaning that Scotland would face Israel five times in two years.

John McGinn scores his second goal in the 3-1 victory over Kazakhstan

Ten and a half months after their last match, Scotland started the 2020-21 Nations League campaign. Due to Coronavirus, every game was being played behind closed doors. The first was a 1-1 draw at home to Israel. A Christie penalty was cancelled out by an equaliser by Zahavi. A few days later, Scotland travelled to Prague to face a Czech side that had tested positive for Coronavirus. Because of this a whole new squad and manager had to be called up on short notice. With Scotland now strong favourites, the Czechs took the lead. Lyndon Dykes, and a Christie penalty gave Scotland a 2-1 win. The following month Scotland had a triple header, with the first match being the Euro 2020 Play-Off Semi-Final against Israel, that was rescheduled from March. Armstrong tested positive for Coronavirus, and as a result, him, Tierney and Christie had to miss out. After a dull goalless draw, after 90 minutes and extra-time, it went to penalties, for Scotland's first ever penalty shoot-out. McGinn scored Scotland's first, before Marshall saved from Zahavi. McGregor, McTominay and Shankland scored Scotland's next three penalties, while Israel scored their next three. Kenny McLean then stepped up to score Scotland's fifth, and send Scotland to the Play-Off Final, 5-3 on penalties. Three days later Slovakia came to Hampden for the Nations League, and a Lyndon Dykes goal gave Scotland a 1-0 victory. That was followed by a 1-0 win over Czech Republic thanks to a Ryan Fraser goal. A month later, Scotland were to play away to Serbia in the Euro 2020 Play-Off Final, as they had defeated Norway in the Semis. This would be Scotland's biggest game in 13 years (since Italy in 2007). Christie gave Scotland a deserved lead just into the second half, but Jovic equalised in the 90th minute. Scotland held on in extra time, for another penalty shootout. Both Scotland and Serbia scored their first 4 penalties, with Griffiths, McGregor, McTominay and McBurnie scoring for Scotland. Kenny McLean then scored Scotland's fifth to make it 5-4. Serbia's talisman, Alexsander Mitrovic then had Marshall save his penalty, to send Scotland to their first finals since France '98. In Scotland's final two Nations League matches, they only needed two points to win the group and gain promotion. A 1-0 defeat in Slovakia, followed by a 1-0 defeat in Israel ended these chances.

Scotland celebrate qualifying for Euro 2020 after defeating Serbia on penalties

As Euro 2020 had been postponed by a year, the World Cup 2022 Qualifiers actually began before Euro 2020, with Scotland's first three matches being played in March. Scotland had arguably been given a favourable draw, being drawn with Denmark, Austria, Faroe Islands, Moldova, and of course, their arch nemesis Israel. Scotland began with a 2-2 draw at home to Austria, with a late overhead kick by John McGinn rescuing a point for Scotland. Then came a trip to Israel, which was not a happy stomping ground for Scotland, with two defeats in the last two and a half years. A Ryan Fraser goal gained a 1-1 draw, which was an improvement. Three days later, the Faroe Islands visited Hampden, and were beaten 4-0. Two goals from John McGinn, and goals from Che Adams and Ryan Fraser, saw off the Faroes and left Scotland second in the group behind Denmark, who had three wins out of three.

John McGinn scores an overhead kick in the 2-2 draw with Austria at Hampden

After being delayed for a year due to Covid-19, Scotland took part in their first finals in 23 years. As this was hosted throughout Europe, Scotland would have 2 group games at Hampden, and the other at Wembley. In the build up, Scotland had an encouraging draw with Holland and a victory over Luxembourg, with players like Billy Gilmour, David Turnbull, and Nathan Patterson having their debuts. In their opening match, Scotland played Czech Republic at Hampden. Scotland were confident about winning this match as they had beaten the Czechs twice in the last year. The new format meant that the 4 best third place teams would qualify for the knockout stages, this made this a must win match, as the winners would have a great chance of the qualification. In what was an even match though, the Czechs scored either side of half time to win 2-0, with the second goal being an amazing lob over Marshall from just inside the Scotland half. Scotland then travelled to Wembley needing to get a result. Youngster Billy Gilmour made his first start, and put in a man of the match performance in a goaless draw. Many people thought that Scotland deserved more, but it kept Scotland's chances alive. Before the Croatia match, results in other groups meant that victory for Scotland would at least make them one of the best third placed teams. Scotland just needed any type of victory to make it to the knock out stages for the first time. The day before the Croatia match, it came out that Billy Gilmour tested positive for Covid-19, meaning that he would have to isolate for 10 days, and therefore miss the Croatia match. Croatia would take an early lead, but just before half time, Callum McGregor equalised for Scotland. In the second half, a wonder goal from Luka Modric and a header from Perisic ended Scotland's dreams of reaching the knockout stages, with the Croats winning 3-1. Another story of Scotland being so close but so far.

Callum McGregor celebrates after scoring in the 3-1 defeat by Croatia.

Following the Euro 2020 Finals, the World Cup qualifying campaign resumed. Scotland's first match was away to semi-finalists Denmark. Two goals in 90 seconds gave Denmark a 2-0 victory. A home match with Moldova followed, with the first time in almost 2 years that there were no crowd restrictions. A first half goal by Lyndon Dykes gave Scotland a narrow 1-0 victory, as Scotland failed to convert their chances. Three days later, Scotland travelled to Vienna to face Austria, who were seen as Scotland's main challengers for 2nd place. A first half penalty by Lyndon Dykes gave Scotland, arguably, their biggest victory since France in Paris in 2007. This left Scotland in a great position for the play-offs, with Israel looking like their main challengers now. An epic match followed at home to Israel, with a capacity crowd at Hampden, who watched Scotland go behind early on. McGinn equalised before Israel went ahead again. Dykes then missed a penalty, before he equalised with the assistance of VAR. A 94th minute winner by McTominay gave Scotland a 3-2 victory, and meant they had one foot in the play-offs.  A few days later Scotland scraped a 1-0 victory in the Faroe Islands with an 86th minute winner from Dykes. The following month, an impressive 2-0 win in Moldova, thanks to goals from Patterson and Adams, secured second place, and therefore a play-off spot for Scotland. Three days later, Scotland faced group winners Denmark at Hampden. An impressive performance by Scotland saw them defeat Denmark 2-0, thanks to goals by John Souttar and Che Adams. This ensured that Scotland would be seeded in the play-offs, and therefore play their semi-final at Hampden. It also ended Denmark's 100% record and gave them their first defeat in a qualifying match in five years.

Scott McTominay celebrates after his 94th minute winner against Israel

Following the qualification group stages, Scotland were drawn at home to Ukraine in the Play-Off Semi Final. The winner of that game would play the winner of Wales v Austria away. These fixtures were thrown into doubt when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24th February, a month before Scotland were due to face Ukraine. The Ukraine match was postponed until June, and Scotland arranged a friendly with Poland, who were meant to be playing Russia, before Russia was kicked out by FIFA. Scotland drew 1-1 with Poland, and on the same night Wales defeated Austria 2-1. A few days later Scotland drew 2-2 in Austria in another friendly.  Four days later the draw for the World Cup Finals was made, and the winner of Scotland, Ukraine or Wales was drawn in the same group as England, USA and Iran. The play-off with Ukraine was re-arranged for 1st June, with the winner playing Wales 4 days later. In an emotional night for Ukraine, Scotland put in a poor performance and were outplayed. Goals from Yarmolenko, Yaremchuk and Dovbyk, and a consolation from McGregor gave Ukraine a 3-1 win, and ended Scotland's World Cup qualification hopes. In the Nations League, Scotland started with a 2-0 home victory against Armenia. Three days later they suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat in Dublin, leading to some people questioning Steve Clarke's future as Scotland manager. Scotland ended an emotionally draining international break with a 4-1 victory away in Armenia. After the summer, Scotland had three big games in six days. First they put in a very impressive performance at Hampden to beat Ukraine 3-0. Goals from McGinn and two from Dykes put Scotland top of the group. Three days later they beat Republic of Ireland 2-1 at Hampden in a close game, where they came from behind and needed goals from Hendry and a penalty from Christie to win the match. They went into the final game against Ukraine in Krakow needing just a draw to win the group. They put on a great defensive display to come away with a goalless draw. This earned them promotion to Group A, put them in Pot 2 for the Euro qualification draw, and also gave them a place in the Euro 2024 play-offs if they needed it.

Lyndon Dykes scores his first, and Scotland's second goal in the 3-0 victory over Ukraine.

When the draw for the Euro 2024 qualification campaign was made, Scotland were drawn in a tough group alongside Spain, Norway, Georgia and Cyprus. It started with a 3-0 win over Cyprus at Hampden with goals from John McGinn, and two late goals from Scott McTominay. Spain then visited Hampden and an inspired performance saw Scotland get a famous 2-0 victory. Both goals came from Scott McTominay, early in each half. Scotland then travelled to Oslo to play Norway, who took the lead just after the hour mark from a disputed penalty. It looked like it would be a defeat until Dykes equalised with three minutes remaining, and two minutes later substitute Kenny McLean hit a low shot into the bottom corner to give Scotland a valuable 2-1 victory. When Georgia came to Hampden there was a doubt as to whether the game would go ahead, as there was a massive downpour about an hour before kick-off. Even although the pitch was flooded, the referee started the game. But after Scotland took an early lead through Callum McGregor, the referee suspended play. After multiple pitch inspections and Georgia refusing to come out, the game finally restarted 100 minutes later. A second from McTominay gave Scotland a 2-0 win on an emotionally tiring night. It was the first time that Scotland had won their first four qualifying games. A 3-0 win in Cyprus followed with goals from McTominay, Porteous, and McGinn. This left Scotland needing only two points. The following month Scotland travelled to Seville knowing that a draw would be enough for qualification. Scotland looked to have taken the lead through an excellent free-kick from McTominay, but it was controversially ruled out by VAR. Two late goals gave Spain a 2-0 win meaning Scotland had to wait. That wait was only a few days though as Spain defeated Norway in Oslo to seal a place for both Scotland and Spain at Euro 2024. In the final two qualifiers, a weakened Scotland drew 2-2 in Georgia with goals from McTominay and a late equaliser from Shankland. Three days later they finished the campaign with a 3-3 draw at Hampden against Norway, who scored a late equaliser, after McGinn and Armstrong had scored for Scotland, along with a Norwegian own goal. That didn't dampen the celebrations at Hampden though as Scotland were on their way to Germany.

Scotland celebrate Kenny McLean's 89th minute winner against Norway in Oslo.