10 October ~ It has been the ultimate cliched Scottish qualifying campaign. We've endured the usual nervy victories over so-called minnows. We've had the heart-breaking heroic but ultimately futile performance against the world champions. And we've suffered the obligatory last-minute dodgy penalty denying us the win we needed in our most important game. The final ingredient is the unlikely, against-the-odds win we need in the last game nearly – but definitely not – coming true.

Obviously we'll take the lead in Alicante tomorrow night thanks to a piece of class from Darren Fletcher, followed by a wayward Spanish shot going in off Gary Caldwell's arse, and an unnecessary last-minute screamer from Juan Mata, just to kick us when we're down. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic will be hammering the worst-ever Lithuania team 5-0 to wrap up second place.

So what happens after that? Will Craig Levein still be manager? Many Scotland fans refuse to forgive his big mistake in Prague, where his 4-6-0 formation resulted in a 1-0 defeat, and others (myself included) are confused by his reluctance to call up goal-happy Ross McCormack or make more of an effort to get Steven Fletcher and/or in-form Garry O'Connor back into the squad. Our wafer-thin chances against Spain tomorrow are further hindered by Kenny Miller and Craig Mackail-Smith's fitness doubts, and we have just one other striker – David Goodwillie – in the squad. But the manager has established some good young players in the team – Barry Bannan is the prime example – and performances have improved enough to earn Levein a crack at 2014 qualification, in the eyes of the SFA at least. Meanwhile, his critics believe we've only looked good because the Czechs and Lithuania are weaker than usual.

We're still woefully short of decent central defenders, but have varying levels of depth elsewhere, especially in midfield. We may see O'Connor back in dark blue once his off-field issues are resolved (and even Steven Fletcher has made almost positive noises about the potential end of his international exile, albeit in a denying-all-responsibility-for-the-problem way). So will we be wowing Brazil in three years' time? We've got the same chance of qualifying for World Cup 2014 as we have had for every tournament since the break-up of Eastern Europe: probably not, but you never know. Which counts as optimism in Scotland. Our group – Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland, Macedonia and Wales – is the most open I can ever remember. Without Spain, Holland or Germany in the group we could come top, but we're possibly more likely to end up bottom.

And will we ever qualify for another major tournament? Maybe, following Scotland's best performance in recent memory: convincing UEFA to expand the European Championships to 24 teams from 2016. Mark Poole

Comments (3)
Comment by blameless 2011-10-10 14:28:25

The annoying thing over the most recent qualification tournaments was that how brilliantly or badly Scotland played, we were pretty much guaranteed to finish in 3rd place by a bawhair.

Euro 2008: stuck in a group with both world cup finalists, win 8 games out of 12, finish 2 points behind France in 2nd.

World Cup 2010: get a group with a brilliant Dutch team and a lot of dross, but our form goes to pot and we manage to finish behind a dreadful Norway side on goal difference.

Euro 2012: another poor group, but overcaution will see us finish two points adrift of the worst Czech team since the Velvet Divorce.

World Cup 2014: Croatia will win the group, and although Serbia will be fined more points for their fans' misbehaviour (taking them out of the running), we'll only manage a point from our two games with Belgium and finish... 3rd.

Comment by cc82 2011-10-10 15:09:30

Euro 2016 is the one to build for. 24 teams will qualify from a pool of 53.

For all the Levein-bashing about the 4-6-0, the only other realistic candidate for the job is Billy Davies, for whom "hard to beat" has already become an epitaph.

Comment by markrpoole 2011-10-10 15:26:31

Hard to disagree with your take on 2014 qualifying, Blameless.

And cc82, on the subject of 2016, my friend the Wee Man has today calculated that we have a 49% chance of qualifying:


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