STEVE CLARKE has packed a fair amount into his first three years as Scotland head coach, both on and off the field. Play-offs, a pandemic, penalty shoot-outs, you name it.

Along the way he has managed to mould a group of players together who took the nation to their first major tournament in over two decades by qualifying for the European Championships, and they now stand just two wins away from making it to the World Cup in Qatar.

For Clarke, it feels as though this Scotland squad have been slowly building towards this week, and a date with destiny against Ukraine on Wednesday night.

He also knows that the whole world will be against his team, so to speak, with the vast majority of neutrals willing the Ukrainians to give their war-ravaged country something to cheer.

Scotland have their own dreams to realise though, and Clarke believes everything his men have been through during his tenure will prepare them for what lies in wait at Hampden.

“The evolution of the team over the three years I have been in charge is important,” Clarke said.

“We started slow, suffered a few heavy defeats together, then we had the high of coming through the nervous moments against Israel at Hampden and against Serbia away in the playoffs, and another big moment was the actual tournament, playing in it and getting that experience together as a group.

“We had a good feeling when we left Wembley and put on a good show, then the disappointment of the Croatia game. Those highs and lows are part and parcel of football and as you go through them you gain experience and hopefully we can show over the next two games, but certainly in the first game, that experience and it will get us over the line.

"We also have the Tartan Army this time which we didn't have against Israel. If they are loud and get behind us, you see the atmosphere in the last couple of home games, it's been fantastic, and if we can harness that and keep that spirit up and give the fans something to shout about, stay on side with us and see us through the game.”

After the euphoria of reaching the Euros, the performance of the Scotland team during the tournament was a little underwhelming, so does Clarke sense a determination to make more of the opportunity if this group can get to the World Cup?

"The first thing is to qualify,” he said. “It's been a crazy three years for me as a national coach when you think we are going into our second set of playoffs, we have already qualified for a tournament, we have had Covid, a worldwide pandemic, so it's been a completely different and strange three years but for me always on an upward curve.

“I remember speaking to you guys a long way back and saying I could see signs this group of players was going to improve and I think they have done that.

“First thing is to concentrate on the playoff games, get through them, and if and when we get to Qatar then try and improve on what we did in the Euros.”

The Ukrainian players who ply their trade in their own domestic league have been training ahead of this match in Slovenia for an extended period, where they were joined recently by those who play abroad, like Manchester City star Oleksandr Zinchenko.

So, despite the devastation in their homeland, Ukraine will come to Hampden fully prepared, a fact that Clarke is fully cognisant of.

"I like them,” he said. “They are a really good team. They play to win. They play positive football. I don't think they will come and sit in. They will come and take us on.

“Good in both phases of transition, so good in attacking transition and when they concede possession, they get back behind the ball very quickly. A good technical team.

“Two systems of play. They can play two different ways. They can play with a back three or they have dabbled a little with a back four. I am not quite sure what they will start with but they won't be quite sure how we will start either, so it's pretty fair.

"Shakhtar Donetsk are normally in the latter stages of European tournaments, Dinamo Kyiv are in the group stages of European tournaments. These players are top class. Don't be fooled.

“Maybe you don't recognise the names or know the level of Ukrainian football but they are always involved at very good level. They are good players and a good team and we will have to be at our very best to get a result.”

Even if Scotland do fall short of their goal of reaching Qatar, Clarke doesn’t think it will derail the progress that has been made, and in fact, he feels there may well be the building blocks in place for the nation to regularly be in with a shout of reaching major tournaments.

“I think we have got a really good current squad, one which is a good age,” he said.

“Take out my golden oldie goalkeepers, you have Grant Hanley at 30, Liam Cooper at 30, Ryan Jack is 29 plus there are a couple getting to their late twenties. But by and large I think this group of players have got two more tournaments in them, the current group definitely.

“And if you look at the younger ones, we have promoted quite well with them with Nathan Patterson in the squad, Billy Gilmour, Lewis Ferguson, David Turnbull and one or two others that are a little bit younger than the rest. They can probably got for another two, three, four tournaments.

“I don’t like beating my own drum but I think over the last three years we have progressed well as a national team.”