A 3-0 loss away to Kazakhstan in the very first match of the Group I hastened the demise of former boss Alex McLeish but also left the Scots requiring a tremendous effort against one of the group’s big guns to progress.
Clarke’s men will get two cracks at the whip this week on home soil, with Russia and Belgium both visiting, although the latter already seem likely to claim top spot.
The side ranked No.1 in the world by FIFA have inflicted the only defeat thus far onto Russia, who know that a win in Glasgow would represent a giant step towards qualification next summer.
|Game||Scotland vs Russia|
|Date||Friday, September 6|
|Time||7:45pm BST / 2:45pm ET|
TV Channel, Live Stream & How To Watch
In the United States (US), the game can be watched live on ESPN 3 and streamed via TUDN En Vivo.
|US TV channel||Online stream|
|ESPN 3||TUDN En Vivo|
In the United Kingdom (UK), the game will be shown live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Football and can be streamed via Sky Go Extra.
|UK TV channel||Online stream|
|Sky Sports Main Event / Sky Sports Football||Sky Go Extra|
Squads & Team News
|Goalkeepers||MacGillivray, Marshall, McLaughlin|
|Defenders||Bates, Cooper, Devlin, Mulgrew, O'Donnell, Robertson, Taylor|
|Midfielders||Armstrong, Christie, Jack, McGinn, McGregor, McLean, McTominay, Snodgrass|
|Forwards||Forrest, Fraser, McBurnie, Naismith, Phillips, Russell|
Scotland are extremely light in defence, with only 85 caps between their seven recognised defenders – and 71 of those won by Charlie Mulgrew and Andy Robertson combined. As such, it was a blow that Grant Hanley and Liam Palmer pulled out of the original squad.
Leigh Griffiths has not been deemed ready to feature after a long period out of the game due to personal troubles, though Steve Clarke does not have significant riches to choose from in attack.
Steven Naismith missed training of Thursday and is a doubt as such, but should be ready to play some role.
Possible Scotland starting XI: Marshall; O’Donnell, Bates, Mulgrew, Robertson; McGinn, McGregor; Forrest, Christie, Fraser; Russell
|Goalkeepers||Guilherme, Lunyov, Dzhanayev|
|Defenders||Zhirkov, Kudryashov, Mario Fernandes, Dzhikiya, Neustadter, Semenov, Petrov, Belyayev, Karavayev|
|Midfielders||Golovin, Yerokhin, Zobnin, Cheryshev, Ionov, Ozdoyev, Kambolov, Akhmetov, Barinov, Bakayev|
|Forwards||Smolov, Dzyuba, Komlichenko|
Russia have seen Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Aleksei Miranchuk pull out of the squad due to injury. Meanwhile, World Cup 2018 star Alan Dzagoev is in the late stages of returning from a cruciate knee ligament injury and is a notable absentee.
Goalkeeper Anton Shunin and midfielder Yuri Gazinskiy are both out with shoulder issues.
Possible Russia starting XI: Guilherme; Mario Fernandes, Semenov, Dzhikiya, Kudryashov; Ozodoev, Zobnin; Ionov, Golovin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba
Betting & Match Odds
Scotland are 2/1 to score an upset victory with bet365. Russia are slight 13/8 favourites while a draw is on offer at 11/5 - making this a match the bookies are struggling to call.
Scotland’s hosting of Russia on Friday promises to be a pivotal match in Euro 2020 qualification. If the hosts win and claim the three points, they will find themselves firmly in the running to reach the finals, yet a defeat would surely be fatal for their chances.
While Hampden was once a venue where even the biggest teams struggled – it was barely a decade ago that Scotland claimed maximum points from matches against France and Ukraine, sides that had recently contested the World Cup quarter-finals – the Scots have lost some of that lustre that made them a force to be feared.
Under Steve Clarke, however, there is renewed optimism, despite the team struggling to overcome Cyprus in June then falling to a 3-0 loss away in Belgium three days layer.
“It's been a long time since we turned over one of the big boys,” the manager admitted. “Russia, having been in the last eight of the last World Cup, are one of the bigger teams. We need a big win as a country.
“It's about time that we as a nation, rather than being on the receiving end, are dishing out a result that's deemed an upset. Hopefully Friday night can be the case.
“Over a number of years, we haven't reached a major finals. The more often that happens, the less people start to believe in it. So one big result could change the mindset, not just of the squad, but of the whole nation.”
The former Chelsea assistant, though, says the fixture is not a make-or-break affair, with a home match against Belgium to follow on Monday then a trip to Russia in October.
“If you're optimistic, you think you can win any game,” he said. “Rather than put the pressure on the one game, over the next three games we have to make sure we get enough points to make sure we're still in the group.”
Stanislav Cherchesov, the Russia boss, has taken a different view of the fixture.
“We are looking at our opponents, we are looking at the table and we might say that this match is for six points rather than three,” he said. “Nonetheless there will still be five games ahead of us and 15 points to play for. We are not going to talk about maths at this time. We just understand that both teams have similar chances to win.”