‘We’re off to Germany’ – the message on the Scotland players’ t-shirts said it all.
Steve Clarke’s side went into their final two Euro 2024 qualifiers having already sealed their spot at next summer’s tournament.
Five wins from five at the start of the campaign – a run that included victories over Spain at Hampden Park, and in Oslo over Erling Haaland’s Norway – paved the way for Scotland to finish second in Group A and reach back-to-back Euros.
Over the campaign in which Scotland lost just once in eight games, Clarke fielded 29 players – and while he is having a well-earned break – soon attention will turn to who makes his final squad.
Only 23 players will board the plane to Germany, so here’s a look at who is in the mix…
Could Gordon make a remarkable return?
Norwich goalkeeper Angus Gunn beat off competition from Hearts’ Zander Clark and Motherwell’s Liam Kelly for the No 1 jersey at the start of the campaign – having pledged his allegiance to Scotland, despite playing for England U21s.
He took over from the injured Craig Gordon who has been recovering from a double leg break suffered in December 2022 during Hearts’ Christmas Eve game against Dundee United.
The 41-year-old is back training however, and were he to replace Clark at club level before the end of this season, Gordon could force himself into the manager’s plans.
« There’s no doubt at this moment in time Angus Gunn is Steve Clarke’s No 1, » said Sky Sports’ Kris Boyd.
« Obviously, he fancied Zander Clark ahead of Liam Kelly for the last two games – replacing Gunn who was injured.
« Zander has done himself no harm there but if Craig Gordon comes back and he ends up playing between the sticks for Hearts, where does that leave him?
« It’s a difficult one. That’s why Steve gets paid the big bucks, he can make the decisions and we’ll just talk about it! »
Any shocks in defence or midfield?
Clarke has been consistent in his back-line selections, with Aaron Hickey, Ryan Porteous, Nathan Patterson, Jack Hendry, Kieran Tierney and captain Andrew Robertson featuring in the most number of games.
Grant Hanley, Liam Cooper, John Souttar, Scott McKenna, Dominic Hyam, Anthony Ralston and Greg Taylor all featured at some point during the eight qualifiers too, while Josh Doig and Ross McCrorie were named in a squad but did not play.
Midfielders John McGinn, Callum McGregor and Scott McTominay featured in every match – a feat only matched by forwards Ryan Christie and Lyndon Dykes – suggesting Clarke will be consistent with his approach in the middle too.
Stuart Armstrong (6), Kenny McLean (7) and Billy Gilmour (5) all featured consistently too and would be expected to board the plane to Germany – but will Ryan Jack and Lewis Ferguson also make the cut having featured in just three games?
Boyd said: « Even if there were some dips with his regulars, I don’t think he’d leave them out because he knows exactly what they can do when they come to camp.
« There might be the odd one who could force their way in but listening to Clarke he spoke about the group, the unity and the togetherness of that squad.
« The nucleus of it won’t change unless Steve Clarke can talk some of the English Premier League players to come out and play for Scotland, which is being spoken about. »
Shankland, Brown or Nisbet up-front?
The real dilemma for Clarke could come at the top end of the pitch.
Ryan Christie, Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams are almost guaranteed to be in the squad, but who else could join them?
Having scored five goals in his last five club games, Hearts’ Lawrence Shankland then netted during Scotland’s draw in Georgia.
Meanwhile, Jacob Brown – who started in the 3-3 draw against Norway – has scored just one goal this season for Luton Town in the FA Cup, and Millwall’s Kevin Nisbet will hope to get over his injury troubles to force his way into Clarke’s plans.
« Che Adams is nailed on, Dykes has done really well for Scotland and you’d fancy him to go, » said Boyd.
« Brown started against Norway and is probably the most similar to Che Adams in style. But for me, I’d have Lawrence Shankland on the flight all day long.
« You know if you create opportunities for him he’ll score goals. There was nobody in that Scotland squad against Georgia who scores the header he scored. »
Anderson, Gordon or Barnes surprise call?
While Clarke has been consistent with the group of players he calls up – could there be some new faces to add to the mix?
Harvey Barnes, Elliot Anderson and recently Anthony Gordon were all linked with a Scotland call-up – with Tino Livramento also eligible for the national side.
Anderson did get added to Clarke’s squad in August but withdrew from the group ahead of the September qualifier against Cyprus and friendly against England, while Barnes has been injured and Gordon is also in the frame for England too.
However, with Gunn impressing despite playing for England’s U21 side and players from across the Premier League shining under Clarke on the international front – could others be tempted to play for Scotland?
Boyd said: « I have nothing against it. As a player you deserve to dream, to go and represent your own country but if you’ve got parents or grandparents who are Scottish, we’re more than welcome to have them!
« There are a lot [in this Scotland team] who have played at the top end of the English Premier League and it does help. Clarke is big on testing yourself against the best opposition. When you’re playing in that league week in, week out you know you’re going to be tested. It only helps the players, the environment and the squad going forward.
« Anthony Gordon would be the one for me. I thought at Everton a couple of years ago he single-handedly kept them up with the way he went about his business.
« He struggled at first when he went to Newcastle but he’s found a rich vein of form. The other guys have definitely got the attributes. I’m not getting too caught up in it because it would be wrong to overlook the boys who have managed to get Scotland to another major tournament. »