THE draw for Euro 2020 has been made and we have to be relatively pleased with the outcome.
Scotland has been drawn in Group I along with Belgium, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cyprus and San Marino.
Without being defeatist, it goes without saying that Roberto Martinez’s Belgian squad is a cut above the rest of the nations.
If we can nick a point from them, say at Hampden, then we should be absolutely delighted.
Of course, we are not long off the back of a 4-0 hiding from them in a friendly in Glasgow a couple of months ago. But let’s see how we get on when it’s for real.
I played against Belgium in the qualifiers for the 1984 Euros and and scored what many regarded as one of the finest goals of my career when we lost 3-2 in Brussels.
But, for me, the goal meant zilch as we lost the game. I’d rather have tapped one in from half-a-yard out if it meant securing a victory. I never got any satisfaction when I scored in a game we lost.
We didn’t qualify for that tournament.
I hope we can have a wee bit more luck this time around.
But we must also be mindful that there is no point in doing well against the top seed and then dropping silly points elsewhere.
For example, in the past week I’ve heard many people say that it is a straight shoot-out between Scotland and Russia for second place in the group to clinch an automatic qualifying spot.
I don’t necessarily go along with that. Quite simply, there is no way I’m going to completely dismiss Cyprus and Kazakhstan. That would be foolish and likely to come back to bite you.
So, we must give all of our opponents total respect, but also have the necessary belief and desire to accumulate the amount of points required to qualify.
It’s never an exact science, but in a six-nation section, we will need around 20 points from the 30 available.
That is not an easy task, but the starting point has to be a minimum of 12 points from the five home fixtures. If we don’t achieve that then we are unlikely to reach the target.
In past qualification programmes, we just haven’t won enough games at Hampden and paid the ultimate price as a result.
I do hope that changes for Alex McLeish and his players in the coming year. 2019 is going to be absolutely massive for the whole nation and, if we are successful, it has the potential to really change our game in a positive way and also bring an extra feelgood factor to the whole public, in general.
We all know it’s been far too long since we’ve been at a major tournament, but let’s get behind Alex and the players and do what we can and so what can be achieved when there is unity around the whole country on and off the park.
I’ve been very fortunate to have played at major Finals for my country and there is no better feeling, trust me. But it is not going to be easy to qualify.
We also have to be mindful that three of our first our games are away from home and we could be sitting on just seven points out of 12.
That would actually be decent and would give us a platform to build on from September onwards when we play six games.
Every game is vital, of course. But it looks as though the double header in September will be crucial to our chances. We play Russia first and then Belgium, both at Hampden Park.
Both games will go a long way to defining our destiny and we will know where we stand after that.
I hope we are in a healthy position. We then go to Russia in October and that will be a 90 minutes for the most tried and tested.
We finish the section at home to Kazakhstan on November 11. Before that we travel to Cyprus. What would we give to be in a position where six points from both games would take us through.
I’d settle for that, all day long.
But I’m not getting carried away. We have a long road ahead and I wish Alex and his players all the very best.
They finished the Nations League section strongly to top the group with wins against Albania and Israel. We are going to need more of the same throughout 2019.
It will be time for Allan McGregor, Kieran Tierney, Ryan Fraser, Andrew Robertson, Scott McKenna, Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Charlie Mulgrew, John McGinn, Leigh Griffiths and Steven Fletcher to stand up and be counted, to lead our country to some memorable success in the next 12 months.
We badly need it, because it is what keeps many people going and the thought of a successful national team has us all bursting with with pride.
Let’s do it. It has to be our time. Finally.