The 2021/22 season was a real game of two halves for Steve Clarke’s Scotland. After losing their first game in Denmark, they put together a remarkable run of six consecutive wins to secure the home Playoff Semi-Final for the World Cup.
The second half of the season saw that momentum falter. March’s World Cup Playoff against Ukraine was postponed until June, with Scotland drawing the two hastily arranged friendlies (1-1 v Poland & 2-2 v Austria).
By the time the Playoff against Ukraine finally arrived in June, Scotland put in a fatigued performance, falling 1-3 to a uniquely motivated side. Forced to pick themselves up for a triple header of a new Nations League campaign, Scotland returned mixed results – winning home and away against Armenia either side of a very disappointing 0-3 loss in Dublin.
While performances and results in June failed to live up to the raised expectations, there is plenty to get excited about for the Scotland National football teams in 2022/23 – let’s look at some of the highlights…
For the first time in 5 years, (at least) one Scottish team will compete in the Group Stages of the most prestigious club competition in the world, the UEFA Champions League.
In a large part down to the incredible results of Rangers in recent seasons, the coefficient of Scottish football allowed Celtic as the winners of the 2021/22 SPFL Premiership direct entry in the Group Stages, no convoluted qualifying process. Exposure to elite level European football for Callum McGregor, Turnbull, Ralston and the rest can only benefit Scotland.
Rangers will look to match their rivals, needing to go through two rounds of qualifying. Last season’s Europa League finalists will look to continue their adventures in that tournament at the least.
A crucial loss for Scotland in June was Kieran Tierney, who suffered a knee injury that required surgery in March. Tierney has been an irreplaceable part of Steve Clarke’s tactical system, offering defensive stability, excellent passing out of defence and attacking underlaps past Andy Robertson.
It will give Scotland and Arsenal fans great relief to see Tierney return to pre-season looking fit and strong.
Premier League Scots
Joining Tierney in the Premier League are a number of Scots who achieved promotion from the EFL Championship last season. Ryan Christie’s Bournemouth & Scott McKenna’s Nottingham Forest will be looking to impress as they make their Premier League debuts.
They won’t be the only Scots joining KT, Robertson, McGinn and the rest in the Premier League this season, there’s also been a sizable new transfer.
Brentford’s new Bee
Aaron Hickey has achieved a lot in his short career since making his professional debut as a 16-year-old for Hearts. In 2020 he joined Italian Serie A side Bologna, establishing himself as first choice left wing back. Last season he became the first Scot to score five Serie A goals in a single season since Graeme Souness.
In March he made his Scotland debut, coming off the bench in the friendly against Poland. Steve Clarke then put the faith in him to start in the crucial Playoff against Ukraine in the less familiar RWB position.
This summer he joined Premier League side Brentford for a significant transfer fee. While it’s important to remember he only just turned 20, given how quickly he adapted to Italian football it will be fascinating to see how he gets on in the Premier League.
New horizons for the SWNT
It’s not just Scotland’s men who will be playing in new surroundings this season, with members of the Scotland Women’s National Team making big moves this summer.
Most eye-catching was Caroline Weir swapping Manchester for Madrid, joining Real Madrid Femenino. She will hope to inspire her new side in the Women’s Champions League and to take on old rivals Barcelona in the Primera Division.
Also making a big move was Claire Emslie, the 28-year-old joining Angel City – the Natalie Portman backed side based in Los Angeles. Emslie managed to score on her debut off the bench.
While the 2022/23 season won’t see Scotland return to the World Cup, there’s plenty of important action coming up.
September 2022 – Scotland close the Nations League campaign. June’s mixed results across the group have left the group wide open. To win the group Scotland will need at least 4 points from their home & away games against Ukraine and to avoid defeat at home to Ireland – a tall order but definitely achievable with a rested, refreshed side. Should Scotland win the group, they would then be seeded 2nd for…
9 October 2022 – The Qualifying draw for EURO 2024. In a qualifying process where the top two qualify automatically for the Finals in Germany, being seeded 2nd would give Scotland a huge chance to make a Major Final without the need for navigating the Playoffs.
March 2023 – MD1 & MD2 for the EURO 2024 qualifying, followed quickly by…
June 2023 – MD3 & MD4 for EURO 2024 qualifying – with the group ending in September, October & November 2023.
For Scotland’s Women, a win against Ukraine in June coupled with results elsewhere secured a Playoff Place for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
September 2022 – Scotland travel to the Faroe Islands to round off the qualifying process knowing they are already assured of a Playoff place. The final qualifiers being played at this time will determine whether Scotland get a bye into the Second Round of the Playoffs or need to go through two rounds.
October 2022 - Between 3-11 October, there will be two rounds of single-leg Playoffs, with three World Cup places up for grabs. Should Scotland make it through both rounds, they will be ranked against the other two Playoff Winners – the top two qualify automatically, the third placed Playoff winner would face another (!) Playoff against a country from another continent.
February 2023 – If required, this is when the inter-confederation playoff would be. The format would be a Semi-Final and Final in a Playoff tournament hosted in New Zealand.
July-August 2023 – The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.