Scotland have “given a little something to the country” after a “horrible year”, said a tearful Ryan Christie after the men’s national team reached their first finals in 23 years.
Christie’s second-half goal looked like taking Scotland to the Euros, only for Luka Jovic to level in the 90th minute.
But Scotland went on to win 5-4 on penalties to end a barren streak of 10 missed tournaments.
“It’s for the whole nation,” Christie told Sky Sports.
“I hope everyone back home is having a party tonight, because we deserve it. What we’ve been though. So many years – we know it, you know it, everyone knows it.
“It’s a monkey off the back now and we’ll just move on from here.”
Goalkeeper David Marshall saved magnificently from Aleksandar Mitrovic for a 5-4 sudden-death win after Scotland had dominated, led until the 90th minute, then hung on for penalties.
Clarke’s men are now nine games unbeaten – their best run in 44 years – and will face England, Croatia and the Czech Republic in Group D at next summer’s delayed finals.
Struggling to find the words right now, but I hope there is 5 million people smiling back home right now! The lads gave absolutely everything tonight, I could not be prouder of every single one of them! Oh and…… WE ARE GOING TO THE EUROS 💙🏴 pic.twitter.com/asGOI3FsOI
— Andy Robertson (@andrewrobertso5) November 12, 2020
The manager said he urged the players to “keep believing” after Serbia’s late goal threatened to snatch away a place at Euro 2020, as he praised their “unbelievable character”.
“We were setting up nicely for a typical Scottish scenario – 1-0 up in the last minute and conceding from a set-play,” said Clarke.
“It would have been easy to crumble and take the disappointment and not finish the game properly. But they dug in in extra time and kept believing, and they get their rewards. They kept their nerve.
“It’s been a very difficult time for the people in Scotland. We spoke before the game about trying to make the nation smile on Friday morning. Hopefully they’re going to.
“If we’ve done our bit to make them feel a little bit better about themselves and about the country, great.”
‘When you’ve waited 22 years, what’s four or five seconds?’
Goalkeeper Marshall revealed the referee told him not to celebrate saving the spot-kick that sent Scotland to the Euros because there would be a video assistant referee check.
— Oli McBurnie (@oli_mcburnie) November 12, 2020
But, after an agonising few seconds, he was finally given the all clear.
He said: “I just hoped and prayed that it didn’t go to a retake because the lads were already on their way. They didn’t know it was being checked probably.
“When you’ve waited 22 years what’s another four or five seconds?
“It’s almost a numb feeling, it’s been so long. It’s just a massive emotional feeling. Ryan Christie was in tears and it just shows how much it means to the lads to get there.
“Had we lost it it would have been gut-wrenching, but if you’re going to do it that’s the best way to do it. The lads scoring 10 out of 10 penalties under that amount of pressure is just incredible.”