When Paul Lambert returned home from the 1998 World Cup Finals in France, he knew a few of the squad would be making way for some new blood.
Back then, Craig Brown’s team had an average age of 30, and gaining just one point from their three games saw them back home before the postcards.
Their exit was particularly painful.
Following a spirited performance in the tournament opener against Brazil in the Stade de France, and a draw with Norway in Bordeaux, they departed the tournament following a 3-0 defeat against Morocco in St Etienne.
That was our last major Finals until Euro 2020, and very soon thoughts will turn to what we can achieve when the 2022 World Cup qualifiers get back underway.
Steve Clarke’s side have already played three games and have picked up five points.
In September, the road to Qatar resumes and they will play three fixtures, against Denmark, Moldova and Austria.
It could well be that with young talent now emerging – such as Billy Gilmour, David Turnbull and Nathan Patterson – the average age of the team will be less than 25.
Lambert, now 51, is encouraged by that. He hopes that we can make it to the Finals at the end of next year, and wants to see our promising youngsters flourish on the big stage.
“The aim of every Scotland manager, and Scotland player, is to qualify for tournaments,” Lambert, capped 40 times for his country, told The Sunday Post.
“They are doing that just now, for the first time in 23 years, and you can see what it means to them, and how proud they all are.
“Steve has built a very good squad. There is a mixture of youth and experience, and there are plenty of talented footballers in there.
“When you see the likes of Gilmour, Patterson and Turnbull, it makes you have real hope for the future.
“Then you take into account that Kieran Tierney has just turned 24 – and both Scott McTominay and Che Adams are the same age as Kieran.
“John McGinn is only 26. Andy Robertson is still only 27.
“So we have eight or nine players with many, many years left at the highest level. We have reasons to feel good about what the future might hold for the Scotland national team.
“They are in a tournament just now, and they will want to be at the next one.
“To get to Qatar, they will need to win five or six more ties in their group, but they are capable of going on a really decent run.
“The fixtures will be tough, of course they will be. But we should not be afraid.
“We have the quality to beat some of the best countries in Europe.
“I believe we can leave the Euros this summer feeling optimistic, as the players will have gained invaluable tournament experience to move us forward in the short and medium term.
“As a manager, Steve will have benefited enormously from the past few weeks, and will be itching to push on again with Scotland.”
In Brown’s squad 23 years ago, the likes of Colin Hendry, John Collins, Tom Boyd and Kevin Gallacher were all over 30. Ally McCoist and Stuart McCall had already been fazed out.
Lambert was 29 at that time, and played on until Brown resigned after they failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
The midfielder stood down then, too, but then returned in an emergency to bring some experience on the park to help out new boss, Berti Vogts, and the likes of emerging talent, Barry Ferguson.
The former Celtic midfielder, who was a Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund, said: “Every year, you are looking for one or two players to come through, and really push the older, more-experienced international players.
“That’s what happened towards the end of my time, and it was good to see Barry and Darren Fletcher come in and really look the part.
“We also had the likes of Kenny Miller and James McFadden looking as though they were going to make serious contributions.
“But you must never disregard experienced footballers. That was always on Craig’s mind, and it was the same with Berti.
“Steve will be very aware of the importance of that.
“Yes, we need the youngsters to get into the team, and show they are ready. But they must also be protected, and not thrown in at the deep end without support.
“It’s all about getting the blend right, and giving the team the best possible chance of being successful.
“At the end of the day, every man, woman and child in our country wants to see the national team succeed. There is no greater pleasure.”
It’s also important to have the backing of the fans, and Lambert reckons the Tartan Army have been missed in the past 18 months.
They have been back in the stadiums to watch Clarke’s men play against the Czech Republic and England and there will be 12,000 of them inside Hampden Park on Tuesday night for the game against Croatia.
Lambert said: “Every footballer wants to play in front of supporters.
“The pandemic has taken that away from fans all over the world in recent times, but it is great to see them back in, enjoying themselves.
“It would be wonderful if we could treat them to a victory at the National Stadium on Tuesday. It would be truly amazing.
“Regardless of what happens in midweek, we just have to hope that our country has lifted the restrictions, and we have 50,000 inside Hampden in September.
“How good would that be?
“Steve and the players would welcome that with open arms. It would be a great lift for all of us.
“After that, it’s about getting the results we need to take us to Qatar.
“Being at a World Cup can be the highlight of any footballer’s career. We are ready to go there and compete.
“As I have said, we have some very-talented footballers, and we have every right to be optimistic about the future.
“Let’s see where Steve and the squad can take us over the next two or three years.”
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