Every underdog has its day and Euro 2020 could finally be Scotland’s.
Under the guidance of manager Steve Clarke, the mentality of the national squad has changed.
To put it bluntly, Scotland are no longer “bottlers”.
There is a steeliness and self belief running through the spine of the team that has been instilled by Clarke and captain Andy Robertson.
Finally the Scots have shrugged off that unwanted tag of gallant losers which had dragged the nation down for so long.
For more than two decades, Scotland had blown it in qualifying campaigns to such an extent it had become ingrained into the psyche that the national team would inevitably fall short.
For too long Scotland had been locked in a Mobius strip of close calls, and failure, in missing out on qualification since gracing the 1998 World Cup.
When the Scots were forced to a penalty shoot-out in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel at Hampden, how many of the Tartan Army thought they would bottle it -again? I admit I did.
After 23 years of being consistently let down by the national team, I imagine the vast majority of supporters had that same clawing doubt.
Yet the Scots held their nerve with five flawless penalties to progress.
Again in Belgrade they were within seconds of a 1-0 win and Euro 2020 qualification until they switched off at a corner to allow Luka Jovic to net an injury time equaliser for Serbia.
When Jovic’s header went in the script for another “so near but yet so far” har- luck story was not just written, the movie was already in pre-production for a tear jerker.
Yet Scotland ripped up the script with another five flawless spot-kicks in the penalty shoot-out.
To score 10 out of 10 penalties in such high pressure environments indicates nerves of steel run throughout the entire squad – and management.
Previous Scotland squads since France 98 would not have withstood the demands of those all-or-nothing situations when you are one spot-kick away from being heroes – or zeroes.
Previous Scotland teams would have wilted.
This squad never looked like buckling in either shoot-out, which can only bode well for Euro 2020 – especially in a group against Czech Republic, England and Croatia where fine margins could make all the difference.
That sheer defiance, fight and unity displayed in those shoot-outs has combined, along with some real talent, to produce a side that are very difficult to beat.
The foundation of Scotland’s qualification for the Euros was hard work, team spirit and most of all “bottle”
When you also combine the skill and experience of players operating at the top level such as Robertson, (Liverpool), Scott McTominay (Manchester United), Kieran Tierney (Arsenal) and John McGinn (Aston Villa), it makes for a strong concoction.
I sense that the mentality of this Scotland squad is such that they will not be content to have qualified.
With just two defeats in the previous 16 games, Scotland are not going to make up the numbers, they are in the Euros to make an impact and progress from the group stages for the first time.
If they can reach the last-16, being a side that is hard to beat becomes very, very important – especially with the potential for penalties in knock-out matches.
No start for Nathan Patterson
The second half performance of Rangers’ full-back Nathan Patterson in the 1-0 defeat of Luxembourg has not given manager Steve Clarke a selection headache.
Patterson is an exciting talent.
However, earning his debut cap when coming off the bench in the 64th minute against a nation 96th in the FIFA world rankings and down to 10 men should not propel him into the starting line-up to face Czech Republic on Monday.
The 19-year-old has only made a handful of starts for Rangers and, although he excelled in the Europa League for his club, starting Scotland’s biggest game for 23 years is too big a step up.
Stephen O’Donnell is an experienced international with 18 caps and should start in that right wing-back role against the Czechs.
There is, however, a compelling argument to start Chelsea’s 19-year-old midfielder Billy Gilmour.
He is a phenomenal talent that can turn a game and shone when coming off the bench in both friendlies against Luxembourg and Holland.
However, Callum McGregor cannot be discounted as he has experience of controlling games at a high level.
McGregor would get the nod from me with Gilmour introduced as an impact substitute.
The farce of Mayweather v Paul ‘fight’
The embarrassing farce of the Floyd Mayweather exhibition bout against YouTuber Logan Paul was a slap in the face to boxers who have devoted their lives to the sport.
Those boxers who train three times a day, despite working full-time, and make tremendous sacrifices in the pursuit of success.
For them to see a social media star earn millions for wildly swinging his arms around like Phoebe from Friends running in Central Park is an insult to them while they struggle to earn a living from the sport.
I don’t blame Mayweather either. He exploited the gullibility of people foolish enough to pay to watch this carnival side-show.
After the fight, where he pocketed $35 million for effectively a training session, Mayweather admitted “I’m the best at legalised bank robbery”.