We have to be pleased with how the play-off draw for the 2022 World Cup Finals worked out for Scotland.
Ukraine at Hampden on March 24 then, if we emerge victorious, Wales or Austria away from home five days later.
Now, not for a moment am I suggesting it will be straightforward – but we have to fancy our chances.
Tougher ties were a possibility when the draw was made on Friday evening, so I’m fairly certain Steve Clarke and the players would all have embraced how things worked out.
Steve will already be getting down to doing his homework on Ukraine and, as ever, he will leave no stone unturned.
They finished runners-up in their group behind France, and were unbeaten right through their qualifiers, drawing twice against the reigning World Cup holders.
That shows you the calibre of players that they have.
They also got to the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, before losing 4-0 to England.
Sure, they might not have any of the household names they had in the recent past, like Andriy Shevchenko or Serhiy Rebrov. But that does not matter.
They still have players with the ability to hurt us and win the game.
Steve has stated that the draw is very tough, and he is right. But we have avoided Italy and Portugal. I see that as being a bonus.
You would probably fancy Wales to beat Austria, and that would see us play them away from home if we win.
That, of course, would lead to talk about how to stop Gareth Bale.
And for the Tartan Army, it would bring back the memories of playing against them in a World Cup qualifier at Anfield in 1977, where I was fortunate to score our second goal in a 2-0 win that sent us to Argentina.
Eight years later, we played them again, this time at Ninian Park in Cardiff.
The 1-1 draw was enough to get us into a play-off for the Finals in Mexico the following year, but it’s probably remembered more for being the night big Jock Stein passed away.
But, listen, memories of previous meetings with the Welsh are for another day. Let’s take care of what’s in front of us in the first instance.
What we know right now is that the boys are in good form and are unbeaten in six games. They’ve been on a remarkable run and deserved to get into the play-off semi-finals.
It’s just a pity we need to wait four months for the Ukraine match to come around. That is hugely frustrating for all of us.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) November 26, 2021
We just hope to avoid injuries for the players at club level, and let March come around with the squad buzzing and raring to go.
With the semi-final being at Hampden, it will be like having a 12th man. I’ve always said that about playing at home for Scotland, and I genuinely mean it.
If the Hampden Roar is with us right from the off – and I’m sure it will be – then we can potentially startle Ukraine and try to take advantage of that.
Like any game, it’s vital to get off to a good start, set the tempo and be on the front foot. We can do that.
I’m sure the lads will be nervous, but nerves can be a good thing.
I used to get nervous before every game. My view was that every game was a big game, whether it was a League Cup tie for my club or a World Cup match for Scotland.
I played in the play-off against Australia in 1985, and I was nervous before that one, for sure.
We won 2-0 with goals from Davie Cooper and Frank McAvennie. We were well worthy of the win, and I really enjoyed that evening.
I didn’t travel to Melbourne for the game, but a goal-less draw was enough to see us through.
So we have form for winning play-offs.
But, for now, the whole country just needs to relax and take a breath. We have a while to wait.
Steve will have the team ready. He has been hugely successful in his time as Scotland manager, and we must hope that his greatest moment has still to come.
We know we have some very good players, and we know we have a tremendous spirit in the camp.
That’s a great starting point to have, and that can take us a long way.
It’s lovely to think that we might be at the World Cup next year, for the first time since 1998.
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