GORDON STRACHAN: Scotland won’t blink…this team is full of gems who can get off to a winning start

GORDON STRACHAN: Scotland won’t blink… this team is full of gems like McTominay, McGinn, Tierney and Robertson who can get off to a winning start against the Czech Republic on Monday

One of my most interesting international memories comes from the Mexico World Cup of 1986 when I scored a goal in what turned out to be a narrow 2-1 defeat by West Germany.

As I made my way back to the centre circle for the game to kick off again, I suddenly found I had an image in my mind of my dad dancing around the clubhouse of his golf club in Edinburgh with all of his mates.

That’s what playing for Scotland did for me, and that’s what makes it different to club football.

Steve Clarke and his Scotland players will have to deal with a different level of pressure

Steve Clarke’s players have played lots of big club games for Liverpool and Celtic and Manchester United and so on. But that’s different.

When you play for a club — no matter how big and well supported it is — you know that a significant portion of the crowd and people watching at home want you to get beat. That’s the way it is.

When you play for Scotland, you know that you have the whole lot with you. Every single Scottish person out there wants you to win. So things that go on in your head are different.

You think, ‘My whole family is watching this, all my mates are watching’. You stand there thinking about all the people who have helped you get to where you are in your career and life.

Scott McTominay (left) and Andy Robertson (right) play in big games for their club sides

Scott McTominay (left) and Andy Robertson (right) play in big games for their club sides

The key to it is how you deal with it. Does it inspire you? Or does the responsibility maybe intimidate you?

I am absolutely sure that Steve’s Scotland players will be more than fine with it. They will not blink.

I know a lot of these guys. It’s a while since I was fortunate enough to be their manager, but I have watched this group over the last year and a half and they have got what they need — believe me.

When I was doing the Scotland job, I used to say to the players that we had to work harder than anybody else because we were ranked lower than many of the teams we faced.

So we quickly got into the habit of thinking, ‘Hard work is all right’.

This Scotland side 'have got what they need' to progress at the Euros this summer

This Scotland side ‘have got what they need’ to progress at the Euros this summer

We used to do double sessions and occasionally I heard a bit of mumbling. But I never heard that mumbling for long because I stopped picking those players.

Generally these Scotland players have a great work ethic. They are prepared to do anything.

They were magnificent to work with and Clarke has that now with them. They have leaders. Scott McTominay, John McGinn, Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney. They are top players and top blokes. These guys are just gems to work with and you could argue that’s the most important thing.

Looking at the opening game against Czech Republic, it’s one that Scotland just must not lose. A draw would be a decent result for both teams but I do think we can win it. This is a good Scotland side.

Scotland captain Andy Robertson (pictured) is just one of many leaders in the side

Scotland captain Andy Robertson (pictured) is just one of many leaders in the side

Scotland are not expansive. But they have quality in key areas and I think that any time they go a goal up, they will then become desperately hard to break down.

Mental strength plays its part in big games and big tournaments, and again I don’t see a problem with this group. The way they qualified will help them hugely.

They were almost through in the play-off game when Serbia equalised in the very last minute.

I don’t go into supporter mode that often, I tend to watch things analytically. But I became a supporter again at that moment.

Scotland beat Serbia in a Euro 2020 play-off to secure their place at this summer's tournament

Scotland beat Serbia in a Euro 2020 play-off to secure their place at this summer’s tournament

I just couldn’t see how they were going to deal with what had happened, but actually they handled it brilliantly. They came back again and didn’t have a problem in extra-time before winning it on penalties. That is a real character-building moment so when it comes round again in this tournament, they will just think they have done it all before. It’s invaluable.

I hope playing at home inspires the players, too. I used to think that Parkhead or Ibrox generated better atmospheres than Hampden but that doesn’t mean the venue can’t work for us. It was Hampden where we drew 2-2 against England on my watch, and while we were 2-1 up it was jumping!

Crowds lift players, and that’s even more the case if it’s a home crowd. Even if a bunch of people turned up to watch training one day, I would lift my level as I wanted them to think I was decent!

So it will have an effect. The excitement of being in a tournament will combine with having a crowd back and that should lift the Scotland players. I am optimistic about Scotland getting off to a good start. I think the Czechs would be delighted with a draw if you offered it to them now.

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