London (AFP) – Scotland manager Steve Clarke expects Ukraine to be focused in their World Cup play-off showdown despite the impact of the war in their homeland.
Clarke’s side host Ukraine on June 1, in a rescheduled play-off semi-final which was due to be played in March before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to a postponement.
Ukraine have been working at a training camp in Slovenia for several weeks and Clarke believes they will arrive in Glasgow determined to try to secure a place at the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
“We all understand and respect the position of the Ukrainian team,” Clarke said on Monday. “Fortunately for them they’ve managed to get out of the country and get their players into a training camp.
“They’ve been playing matches and they’ll be ready for the game. The most important thing for me as the Scotland head coach is to make sure we’re ready for the game, and we will be ready. Both teams will be ready to go on June 1.”
When the war began there were doubts about whether Ukraine would be able to fulfil the fixture, but Clarke is delighted they can have a fair shot at qualification.
If Scotland beat Ukraine they would travel to Cardiff to face Wales in the play-off final on June 5.
Scotland, 39th in the FIFA rankings, have not played at a World Cup since the 1998 tournament in France.
“It’s good that it’s going ahead. It’s been a long wait since November when we found out who we were playing,” Clarke said.
“Obviously circumstances have changed for the Ukrainian team but I’m pleased they’ve got the opportunity to come out and play for their country. They’ll want to represent their country well, and we’re no different.
“For us, the football is very important. We want to go to the World Cup. Myself, my staff, my players, we all want to be there. Certainly for me in my head, I just focus on the match.”
Arsenal defender Kieran Tierney has been left out of Scotland’s squad as he recovers from knee surgery.
Clarke has named a 28-man group for the Ukraine match, which is followed by the start of Scotland’s UEFA Nations League campaign.
Tierney, 24, has not played since featuring for Scotland against Austria on March 29 after hurting his knee in training, meaning he missed the end of the Premier League season.
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