Scotland have encountered major disruption in their preparations for the crucial visit of Israel after a positive Covid-19 test by Stuart Armstrong that also forced Ryan Christie and Kieran Tierney into isolation. Steve Clarke has lost Scott McKenna, Liam Palmer and Oliver Burke through injury.
Armstrong, the Southampton midfielder, was confirmed to have coronavirus during routine Uefa testing on Tuesday. Although the remainder of the Scotland squad returned negative results, Christie and Tierney have been identified as close contacts of Armstrong. So, too, have a physiotherapist and a masseur. Armstrong must isolate for 10 days from Tuesday but Christie, Tierney and the members of the backroom team face a period of 14 days. They will all also miss upcoming Nations League games against Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
“Hopefully everyone involved comes through with no issues because health is more important than any game of football,” said Clarke. “But as the national team manager I need to make sure we get a team on the pitch in the right frame of mind and ready to go so we can get a positive result.”
Should Scotland beat Israel they would be one game from a first finals appearance since 1998. “It is up to us to make the nation smile,” Clarke said. “We know we have the nation behind us.”
The removal of Christie from the equation is a particular blow to Clarke. The Celtic midfielder has scored in three of his past four Scotland outings. The absence of Tierney and McKenna should mean a switch to a back four, with Andy Robertson in his favoured left-back position.
“I have some decisions to make in terms of team selection, which really is my main focus now,” Clarke said. “What’s happened has happened. I need to make sure we get a team on the pitch in the right frame of mind and ready to go so we can get a positive result.”
Robertson, Scotland’s captain, said he had “confidence we can do it, regardless of losing quality players”.
Celtic will take on Rangers on Saturday week without Christie and possibly Odsonne Édouard, who tested positive for Covid-19 with the France Under-21s. The striker posted on social media that he was “fine” but it remains to be seen when he can return to training with his club. Tierney will be forced to sit out Arsenal’s trip to Manchester City, also on 17 October. Southampton play at Chelsea that day.