ON 17 October, 2007 – just four days after beating Ukraine 3-1 at Hampden to remain ahead of World Cup holders Italy and beaten finalists France at the top of Euro 2008 qualifying Group B – Alex McLeish’s Scotland side lost 2-0 to Georgia in Tbilisi.
It was a reverse which eventually cost those players even a play-off place. They signed off with a home defeat by Italy a month later and finished third in the table, two points behind the French.
Victory in Georgia would have taken the Scots into a play-off with the Republic of Ireland but Barry Ferguson, who played that night, is certain that there will be no repeat of that setback at Ibrox on Saturday.
Indeed, the former Rangers and Scotland captain, now the player/manager of League 2 club Clyde, is backing Gordon Strachan and his squad to end an 18-year exile from the finals of major competitions. “I think we’ll beat Georgia: in fact, I’ve no doubt about that,” said the 36-year-old. “I watched us play Germany and I thought that we deserved at least a draw – and that was against the world champions in their own back yard.
“Everything is positive about the national team at the moment. Gordon Strachan has done an unbelievable job.
“The way he has them playing means that they’re solid but they’re also able to produce some great stuff of their own. I can only see them qualifying from this group and I only hope they keep going the way they are at the moment.”
Ferguson experienced more disappointment than delight in his 11-year representative career in a Scotland jersey but he believes that the future is bright under the stewardship of Strachan.
“Right now everyone in the country is looking forward to Scotland’s games, whether it’s going to them or watching on TV,” he said.
“There’s a good vibe about Scotland – the feelgood factor is back. I look at the difference Gordon has made.
“There are only ever positive stories coming out of the camp now.
“And, while I know we didn’t get anything out of the Germany game, our second-half performance was different class.
“We had the World Cup winners on the back foot and there were times when we made them look ordinary. That’s all down to the mindset that Gordon has instilled in them and you can see that in their performances.
“Even that is difficult because he only gets them – what? – for six weeks over the year. That’s not a lot of time to work with those players, especially when recovery time is factored in.
“You can’t do too much on the training ground because these lads play a lot of football but he has done a lot. It’s a remarkable achievement.”
Even so, Ferguson does not expect the Scots to run up a cricket score this weekend.
“All international games are difficult – even your Faroe Islands and San Marinos,” he said. “Georgia have a good team – I saw a little bit of their match against the Republic of Ireland.
“They have some decent players so it will be tough but the way Gordon has set us up I can only see one outcome – and that’s a win.”
Ferguson also argues that playing the opening home games away from Hampden will benefit the team.
“If you ask the players, they’ll prefer playing in a stadium where our fans are pretty close to them – I certainly enjoyed that and the vast majority of guys I played alongside were the same,” he said.
“Hampden still provides a good atmosphere but the fans behind the goals are a long way back from the pitch.” Former Celtic captain Tom Boyd, who played at France ’98, agreed with that verdict.
“Both Ibrox and Parkhead give you a better atmosphere than Hampden,” he said. “We all know the problems Hampden has had down the years in trying to generate an atmosphere when there’s not a full house.
“For that reason alone, the crowd being there – and how close they are to the pitch – will help our players and, hopefully, discourage Georgia.
“I’m not sure too many of their players will have come up against an atmosphere like this one.”
• Barry Ferguson and Tom Boyd were speaking at a Show Racism The Red Card event.