The European Championship play-off final is a great opportunity that Scotland can’t afford to miss.
Victory for the national team against Serbia in Belgrade on Thursday night will secure qualification for a major tournament for the first time since the 1998 World Cup.
This play-off – secured as a result of a successful Uefa Nations League campaign – is a great opportunity for the Scots to end the long drought.
When you assess the Nations League and how it’s set up, it’s designed to help nations like ourselves who have struggled to reach tournaments through the normal group stage format.
When you look at that and and look at the teams Scotland have had to play to get to this point, this is definitely the best chance the Dark Blues have had since France 98 to qualify.
To have a one-off game, albeit away from home, against a side of comparative standing, is as good as it gets in terms of the opportunity it gives Scotland to qualify.
The national team haven’t had to face any heavyweights of international football to get to this position, it was fixtures home and away against Israel and Albania in Group C1 of the Nations League and then playing Israel again in the play-off semi-final.
It would be a crushing disappointment if Scotland don’t take this opportunity, but I think we can be positive about the chances of qualifying.
Steve Clarke has been using a system with three at the back which the players seem to understand now and it has made them hard to beat.
It’s eight games without defeat and that is a run which should give the players, management and fans confidence heading into this crunch clash.
Clarke is the type of manager who plays the long game and, even if it does take extra-time and penalties, I think he would accept that.
I don’t see there being too much change in tactics throughout the game on Thursday. It will be a case of Scotland being hard to beat and hard to break down to ensure they stay in the game for as long as possible, while trying to take any chances when they come along.
After the semi-final with Israel it would be no surprise if the final went to penalties as well, although everyone will be hoping it’s done and dusted before that point.
But, at the same time, it’s about being patient and doing everything possible to ensure the team has the best chance of qualification.
Scotland are now producing the type of performances we were expecting when Clarke was appointed.
Some of his early games in charge were a bit open and ragged, but now the displays reflect the type of boss he is and the way he gets his sides to play.
We saw it at Kilmarnock where he made the Rugby Park side very difficult to beat, while also carrying a threat going forward and in terms of the ratio between chances created and goals scored Killie were one of the best in the country.
What we’re seeing now from Scotland under Clarke is what I expected to see when he got the job.
The solid performances that have been churned out shouldn’t be a surprise because that’s what Clarke has based his managerial career on and it’s these aspects of his management that were viewed as essential to helping Scotland qualify.
It’s been so long since the country was at a major tournament that pragmatism was required and I think disciplined, organised performances that produce results is what Scotland need and that’s what has been produced recently under Clarke.
If the Scots can qualify it would be an amazing boost for the Tartan Army who have seen so many disappointments down the years, particularly with group games at the Euros being staged at Hampden.
You can’t underestimate how much it would mean to the players well. We’ve had a couple of generations of Scotland players who haven’t been able to grace a World Cup or European Championships.
The current group of players don’t want to experience that regret and being part of the group that ended what will be 23-year wait come next summer would be very special for them.
To see Scotland back participating at a major tournament would give the whole nation a lift in what have been pretty depressing times.