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CLARKE HAILS HEARTS COMEBACK BOY

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BEAMING Steve Clarke singled out comeback defender John Souttar for special praise after the well-merited 2-0 victory over Denmark at Hampden last night.

The Hearts youngster claimed the breakthrough goal in the 35th minute to guide Scotland through to a home tie in the World Cup semi-final play-off in March in the nation’s quest to reach the Qatar Finals in a year’s time.
Che Adams, Southampton’s all-action, bustling frontman, made certain of the points near the end when he raced onto a through ball from his club team-mate Stuart Armstrong, a late substitute for Ryan Christie, to rifle a right-foot effort wide of the helpless Kasper Schmeichel.
But it was 22-year-old Souttar who received an accolade from his international gaffer while a packed national stadium celebrated the country’s sixth successive victory, the first time such a sequence has been achieved since winning six Home Nations matches in a row between March 1928 and February 1930.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS…John Souttar diverts a header past the Denmark defence for the breakthrough goal 10 minutes from the interval.
Reflecting on the display from the Tynecastle centre-back, Clarke said: “It’s the best story of the night.
“I’m so happy for him. He’s had a horrendous time with injuries to come back and even to be in the squad. He was delighted to be back and to play the way he played. Not just his goal, but defensively and with the ball.
“Congratulations to John. I gave him a big hug when he came off the pitch and it was quite emotional.
“You understand when you’ve been a player yourself and you’ve been involved in the game for so long how difficult it is on the road back.

“I’m absolutely delighted for him.”

BY THE RIGHT…Che Adams wallops in the second goal near the end.
HAMPDEN HITMAN…powerful striker Adams races away in joy.
NATIONAL HERO…Adams is joined by John McGinn as he celebrates the killer strike.
The Danes had been unbeaten in their last 26 qualifiers for World Cups and European Championships and had won all of their nine matches in Group F to top the group, but were swept aside by a relentless Scots side who didn’t have a solitary failure.
Clarke, speaking to Sky Sports News, added: “I get criticised for not smiling enough, but if you can’t smile after a performance like that there would be something wrong with me.
“I’m delighted everything came together. We played good football on the front foot to try and win the game. It’s a good night for us. I knew the players were confident and they showed it.

THE JOY OF SIX…the Scotland players celebrate their sixth successive victory.

“We had to dig in, but we defended well although the legs went a bit towards the end. A great night with a great atmosphere.

“It was important to get the home semi-final. I took a little risk playing the boys who were on a yellow card, but we wanted to finish on a high. We had a chance to win six competitive games in a row which isn’t easy to do.

“The boys wanted to do it and they showed it on the pitch.”
The play-offs take place from March 24 to 29 and the Scots will go into the draw with 11 other nations a week on Friday to discover their first opponents in the quest for the Qatar extravaganza next winter.
TEAM: Gordon; Souttar, Cooper, Robertson (sub: McKenna 79); O’Donnell, Gilmour (sub: McLean 74), McGregor, McGinn, Christie (sub: Armstrong 80), Tierney (sub: Ralston 88); Adams. Unused subs: Clark, McLaughlin, Porteous, Turnbull, Nisbet, Ferguson, Brown.
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Editor

Acclaimed author Alex Gordon wrote the biography of Scotland international legend Denis Law, entitled 'King and Country'. He is a former columnist with World Soccer magazine and Scottish correspondent of respected European journal L'Equipe.

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