NEIL LENNON has praised his Celtic players and international manager Steve Clarke for Scotland ending 22 years in the wilderness with the success over Serbia last week.
Callum McGregor set up Ryan Christie for the goal in the tense 1-1 draw in the Euro Play-Off Final in Belgrade before the encounter went to a penalty-kick shoot-out after extra-time.
Leigh Griffiths, who had come on as a late substitute, accepted the responsibility of taking the first kick and fired home. McGregor, Scott McTominay, Oli McBurnie and Kenny McLean followed his lead and ex-Hoops No.1 David Marshall saved the crucial effort from Aleksander Mitrovic to send the Scots to the summer finals where they will meet England, the Czech Republic and Croatia.
There was a hiccup in the 1-0 UEFA Nations League match against Slovakia in Trnava at the weekend, but Clarke’s men can still win the group with a victory over Israel in Tel Aviv tomorrow night.
Lennon is anticipating a knock-on effect with from his international players when they return to Lennoxtown with an injection of confidence and motivation before Saturday afternoon’s Premiership confrontation with Hibs at Easter Road.
The Hoops gaffer, speaking to this week’s Celtic View, said: “I think it’s brilliant for the Scotland national team. It’s a huge monkey off their backs, it will also bring some much-needed revenue into the game at that level and it’s great for the profile of the sport in this country.
“It was a great goal from Ryan against Serbia, Callum did brilliantly to intercept the pass and his little reverse ball to Ryan was just as good. Ryan manipulated the ball superbly well and it was a great finish – one we’ve almost grown to expect from the likes of Ryan.
“I thought Scotland were the better team for the majority of the game and then you’re suddenly thinking at the end: ‘Oh no, here we go again’. But they showed great resolve in extra-time and throughout the penalties.
“Ryan was very emotional after the game in his interview and that shows you what it means to him.
“There has been a whole generation who’ve missed out on being able to watch their country play international tournaments and now this squad have done it.”
Lennon also hailed international boss Steve Clarke who has led the nation to the first major tournament since the World Cup Finals in France in 1998.
He added: “Steve never gets carried away, and I’m really happy for him. I got to know him a bit when he was in charge of Kilmarnock and I played against him a few times over the years. I always found him really nice and really approachable.
“He’s a very smart coach and he’s got the best out of those players. Qualifying for the Euros is a real feather in his cap.
“There’s no pressure on Scotland now, all of the pressure is off of them and they can go out now and enjoy it. Steve will have them well-drilled and he’s found a system that really suits that group of players.
“They look really hard to beat now, which is fantastic.”