THE draw that will determine Scotland’s pathway to the 2016 European Championships will be made in Nice in 19 days’ time, and in plain statistical terms, Gordon Strachan should be met with a more appealing proposition than the vistas that have greeted his predecessors in the many years since they last reached the finals in 1996.
The difference this time is that 24 teams will be involved in France two-and-a-half years from now, a removal from the status quo of 16.
This means that there is no requirement to win the qualifying group, and even finishing third will keep a team’s interest alive.
Scotland will be seeded fourth and Kenny Dalglish believes there is scope for optimism, and scope for realism, too. He believes the luck of the draw will be all-important.
“Scotland never make it easy – and it won’t be. But I think Gordon has done fantastically well. He had a good run of away victories that have been very helpful to both him and the players. Scotland lost at home to Belgium, but they could be a dark horse for the World Cup.
“They looked a very strong team. They have a good squad with a lot of players in the English Premiership, which helps them. Vincent Kompany, for example, is outstanding for Manchester City.
“It depends on the draw and who you get. It doesn’t matter how many teams go through. Obviously 24 gives you a better chance but it depends on the group you get. One thing is that the support they get at Hampden is unbelievable.
“When the fans stand there and sing Flower of Scotland or the Proclaimers, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. It’s brilliant.”
Dalglish replied with a characteristic shrug when asked if he had ever been close to reaping the adulation of that crowd as Scotland manager, his name having been repeatedly linked with the office during the years in which the Hampden door has revolved.
He moved swiftly on to appraising the work of Strachan, alongside whom he played at the World Cup finals in 1986, since he took the reins – not to mention Strachan’s three immediate predecessors who have had some measure of success without solving the riddle of major-tournament exile.
“I know him and he is what he is. Some people might take his sense of humour differently, but just take him for what he is. There weren’t too many contenders for that job, were there? He wanted to step forward and take it. He knew it was going to be difficult but he wanted to do it. And he has done really well so far,” said Dalglish.
“For me, wee Gordon is a perfect fit for it. He has proved he is good at his job by what he has done and I just hope he can continue it on.
“Scottish football has been through a bit of turmoil for some time. It’s a credit to the players that they have rolled their sleeves up.
“Walter [Smith] came in and really got them organised and gave them a bit of pride back. Big Alex [McLeish] came in and did the same thing. Gordon has come in now and there are young Scottish players getting a chance because of the financial situations at various clubs. That can only help.
“They should also gain tremendous belief in themselves from the results they have managed to get because I think they have done really well recently.
“If they continue to work hard, then we’ll give ourselves a chance. But it depends who you get.”