Scotland v Serbia, Saturday, 3pm
7 September ~ It has been so long since Scotland qualified for an international tournament – the 1998 World Cup in France – that it has become a source of nostalgia in the same way that pensioners like to talk about the war. That prolonged absence was brought into focus earlier this week when James Forrest remarked that he was just six years old the last time Scotland made it to a major finals. The Celtic winger admitted he had only the haziest of memories of those matches against Brazil, Norway and Morocco and he will not be alone in that regard.
An entire generation of Scots has been deprived of seeing their country do battle with football's elite. Instead they rely on misty-eyed tales from fathers, uncles and older siblings about the good old days when the national team used to qualify for tournaments with unerring consistency.
As one campaign ends in crippling disappointment the dawn of the next is met with a tidal wave of blind optimism that maybe this one will be different. The task of qualifying does not get any easier for Scotland. This time their group does not contain any of European football's heavyweights but has no obvious minnows either.
Belgium, a side bursting with talent, will arguably be the strongest side in the section but Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia and Wales will be no pushovers either. Those who like to view their pint as half-full will argue a spot in the play-offs is not beyond Craig Levein's side. The glass half-empty brigade fear Scotland will do well just to avoid finishing bottom.
A good start is imperative to ensure their qualifying prospects are not sunk early on and two home games against Serbia tomorrow and Macedonia on Tuesday will set the tone. Peter Houston, Levein's assistant, and several Scotland players have stated that four points from six will represent a decent return but the reality is that anything less than two victories will probably prove insufficient.
Scotland's only win on the road in their failed attempt to reach Euro 2012 was a narrow one in Liechtenstein and, given the difficult of the away matches this time around, winning all their home games will be crucial to their prospects.
Hampden will probably be sold out come 3pm tomorrow and a win over Sinisa Mihajlovic's new-look Serbian side will provide further hope that qualifying for Brazil 2014 could become a reality. We have waited long enough. Graeme McPherson