Scotland must “suffer together”, says head coach Steve Clarke, after a spirited Ukraine ended their hopes of reaching the World Cup in Qatar.
Despite their country being at war with Russia and some in their squad having not played competitively for months, the visitors earned a deserved 3-1 win.
It means Scotland’s 24-year wait to reach a men’s World Cup finals goes on.
“I’m suffering, my coaching staff are suffering,” said Clarke. “And more than anyone, the players are suffering.
“We’ll have 24 hours where we’ll feel sorry for ourselves. We’ll analyse the game as a coaching staff and group of players. We’ll try and get back on the horse and go again.”
Scotland were favourites coming into the semi-final, which was delayed from March due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But for all their broken preparation, Oleksandr Petrakov’s men were the better team and earned their victory through goals from Andriy Yarmolenko, Roman Yaremchuk and Artem Dovbyk.
Callum McGregor did pull the contest back to 2-1 with 10 minutes to play, but Dovbyk’s goal made sure Ukraine deservedly booked a play-off final spot in Wales on Sunday.
“The best team won. It’s disappointing for us but sometimes the opposition play better than you and that was the case tonight,” said Clarke.
“In the first half, what I saw was we didn’t play enough through the midfield. I was trying to get Billy [Gilmour] and Callum [McGregor] on the ball more so we could make passes.
“The idea was still to play through the lines and get one of the strikers on the ball in that position. Sometimes you have to credit the opposition and tonight Ukraine were a good team.”
Clarke has been in charge of the Scotland for three years, with the highlight of his tenure coming last summer when he guided the nation to the European Championships, where they went out at the group stage.
With that raised expectation, the pain of missing out on Qatar later this year will increase further. However, the Scotland manager said it “shouldn’t be forgotten” what progress the national side has made.
“It’s a group that has developed together,” he said. “We have to qualify for Euro 2024 and beyond that. By World Cup 2026, this group of players will have more caps, more experience and should be better. That’s what we have to aim to be.
“I’ve had some low moments. When I first came in, there were some very low moments. We’ve left those days behind I think, I really do. We’ve improved a lot.
“I’m sad for the plyers because we wanted to go to the World Cup together. We can’t feel too sorry for ourselves. We’re a work in progress. Hopefully they don’t make me out to be a liar and they will qualify for another tournament.”