National manager Steve Clarke has warned Scotland must draw first blood in the World Cup qualifiers and upcoming Euro 2020 finals.
The Scots fell behind to both Austria (2-2) and Israel (1-1) in their opening World Cup qualifiers and had to battle back to salvage draws that have already damaged hopes of reaching the finals in Qatar.
Although Clarke hailed the fighting spirit of the Scots to battle back to earn a point in each game, he has urged his squad to secure an early grip on matches.
That has to begin tomorrow night when Scotland face Faroe Islands at Hampden with three points an absolute necessity against the minnows.
Clarke said: “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.
“I wasn’t happy with the way we started the game against Israel, because I felt we never really got a grip of it in the first half hour.
“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.
“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 and make sure we get that first win under our belts.”
Scotland already trail runaway Group F leaders Denmark by four points after just two qualifiers and are also two points behind Austria.
Next up is a home clash against the Faroe Islands, currently 107th in the FIFA world rankings.
Faroe Islands went ahead against Austria on Sunday evening before finally losing 3-1.
— Færøsk fodbold (@FaeroskFodbold) March 28, 2021
Clarke will have the Scots on red alert regarding the potential dangers of the Faroese.
Asked if Republic of Ireland’s shock 1-0 loss to Luxembourg in Dublin at the weekend is a stark reminder of the potential pitfalls, Clarke said: “Yes it is.
“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.
“Just look at the problems Spain had against Georgia.
“Spain 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.”
🇩🇰 8-0 🇲🇩
🇦🇹 3-1 🇫🇴
🇮🇱 1-1 🏴
🧨 Danish dynamite as goal spree cements No1 spot 🔥 pic.twitter.com/JazIDBJA78
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) March 28, 2021
After the opening two qualifying matches, the Group F table already makes for an uncomfortable read for the Tartan Army.
However, Clarke has urged against making snap judgements and insists the table could look a lot more positive following the clash with the Faroe Islands.
At the same time tomorrow evening, second-placed Austria host leaders Denmark and something has to give.
Clarke said: “Everybody gets a wee bit carried away in the heat of the moment and wants to judge things in that instant.
“That is 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.
“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.”
Scotland can ‘prove to themselves what they can do’ at Euros
Tomorrow’s clash is the last competitive fixture for Clarke’s Scots before the Euro 2020 finals in the summer.
Scotland will face England, Croatia and Czech Republic in Group D in June.
Clarke believes competing in a major finals for the first time in 23 years will accelerate the development of his squad.
He is confident the Scots have the potential to beat the top Pot 1-ranked teams in qualifying campaigns, and hopes that level can be achieved in the bid to reach Qatar 2022.
Clarke said: “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 1 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.”