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Gordon Smith: The Nations League can be a plus for Scotland

Former Scotland boss Gordon Strachan (SNS Group / Alan Harvey)
Former Scotland boss Gordon Strachan (SNS Group / Alan Harvey)

THE draw for the UEFA Nations League will take place in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Wednesday.

And, I believe, it will be a significant step towards Scotland’s return to the Finals of a major tournament.

Back in 2008/09 I was part of David Taylor’s SFA team which helped push for its introduction.

Not because it would help get rid of the plethora of meaningless friendly internationals which clutter up the schedule.

It will do that, but that was not the main attraction for us.

No, even then it was clear this was a development which could help us qualify for the Euros.

Why? Because it offers four consolation-places for countries unable to make it via the traditional route.

Places which you can win by seeing off teams at your equivalent level in the world rankings.

When you think, for example, of the Group of Death we found ourselves in for 2008 qualifying which saw us up against France, Italy and Ukraine.

Although we did really well, and were unlucky not to make it in the end, we were clearly always going to be up against it.

This draw is guaranteed not to throw up anything near so formidable.

Scotland will face one team from a pot containing Greece, Serbia, Albania and Norway.

Another from the quartet of Montenegro, Israel, Bulgaria and Finland.

The final country will be one of Cyprus, Estonia and Lithuania.

Win their way through that group and it would be on to a four team play-off, in March 2020, where we would have the possibility of meeting the likes of Hungary, Romania and Slovenia.

The winner at this stage – and it is important to note teams who qualify via the conventional route will play no part – goes to Euro 2020.

So we have two chances to end a wait stretching all the way back to France ’98.

Our attendance at a major Finals is overdue and, quite frankly, it will be an embarrassment if we come up short.

At Euro 2016, we had to watch on enviously from our front rooms as England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all grabbed their chance to get involved in the big party.

People voiced their sympathy for Gordon Strachan losing his job last year, but the fact is he had two shots at getting us through and failed with them both.

This has to be our time.

We are, after all, a co-host. Qualify and Scotland can expect to play two of their three games in Glasgow.

Hampden Park has its critics, but anyone who witnessed the scenes when Leigh Griffiths hit his two free-kick goals in the draw against England last summer would agree the atmosphere was tremendous.

To watch on as other countries played at our national stadium because we had once again fallen short would be painful in the extreme.

There is no reason why it should come to this.

We possess a strong group of experienced players, with some very good emerging talent coming up behind them.

The group will be freshened up a little, I am sure, after the failed World Cup 2018 bid.

We will have a new manager in place soon and he will have his own ideas about the type of player he wants to have putting his ideas into practice on the pitch.

It is to be hoped that man is Michael O’Neill who has excellent credentials for the job.

He led Northern Ireland to Euro 2016, and to the brink of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, their defeat to Switzerland at the play-off stage by the narrowest of margins.

With us, he would have a better group of players to work with – I have always felt this to be the case and still do now – and would have less problems of his top stars coming to retirement age.

Of course, when it comes to the new Nations League the draw will make a difference.

Let’s hope we avoid Serbia, Romania and Cyprus and I’d say thank you very much for Norway, Israel and Estonia.