No-one needs to tell captain Andy Robertson it was a giant leap for the country’s football kind. Just as no-one needs to tell him that following it up by concluding a 24-year wait to contest a World Cup finals requires more than a further one small step. The demand placed on Robertson and his team-mates by a group campaign that will see them jousting with accomplished middleweights Denmark and Austria, as well as problem opponent Israel, is galactic. The full-back has known stratospheric successes in his career. A member of the first Liverpool team to zoom to a top flight title in three decades, that league triumph last year came 12 months after Jurgen Klopp’s team had been the toast of Planet Football with their Champions League glory. Yet captaining Scotland to the World Cup finals would be a moment to shine as brightly as any other starry feat in his career.
“The Euros is a huge competition and to qualify for that is great. But the World Cup is that step up. Playing against all the nations of the world – the South Americans, the Africans – would be right up there,” he said. “I suppose we’ve got the monkey off our back finally qualifying for a major tournament after such a long time. Now it’s about building momentum. There’s no time like the present. Beating Israel and Serbia in the [Nations League] play-offs was a huge step for this nation, being able to show we can qualify for tournaments again. I know a lot of the Tartan Army thought it was never going to happen. You get that feeling when you get so close, but still so far, in so many occasions. Then, finally, we took that last step. Now it’s about building on that, it’s about trying to create a team and a squad and a generation, and the nation becomes used to qualifying for tournaments. That’s certainly our motivation. But we know how hard it’s going to be.”
To back up the Euro finals they will contest in June, they will require seven points from their opening triple header in the World Cup qualifying campaign that will bring Austria to Hampden, a tie in Israel on Sunday, and then - what requires to be - a gimme against the Faroe Islands at home on Wednesday. Denmark being the team to beat in a section also containing Moldova means there is no international behemoth in their path. Robertson warns against any false impression, though.
“Scotland fans will have been sitting watching the draw and they will have seen us avoid France, Germany and Spain and thought we’ve got a chance. But, Denmark and Austria are very good teams and we’ve seen how difficult games against the likes of Israel are,” he said. “So, it’s a competitive group and I believe we can be competitive for qualifying. Denmark are seeded one, but we’ve got to make it as difficult for them as possible to qualify. That will definitely be our aim. And I’ve no doubt it will be the same for Austria and Israel and everyone else. But, we just need to focus on this first group of fixtures and hope that will stand us in good stead for the next ones coming in September.”
Liverpool’s standing has been diminished by recent months that has left them struggling to make the top four in English Premier League a year on from blitzing it. Robertson has not come into his first Scotland camp for five months as a man feeling unsure of himself, though. “Every season is a test,” he said. “Trying to win a league with the expectations at Liverpool is incredibly difficult. Last season and the season before were tests in different ways. But this one has been tough, of course it has. Having people fall around you - every game we were picking up injuries. It is to be hoped, touch wood, we have kind of stopped that now. In the last six to eight games, we have not picked up many and we have started to get boys back. Being a mainstay of that team, keeping myself fit and being able to be relied on: I have enjoyed the responsibility. But I’ve not enjoyed the results. We know we can do better but we’ve got a big finish to the season. We’ve got 10 games left in the Premier League to try to push up into a more respectable position. And we are in the last eight of the Champions League. Ticking the box for Scotland in November was obviously an incredible high. I hope we can continue that good feeling in this international break and I can go into the last part of the season flying.”
Scotland manager Steve Clarke’s refusal to rule himself out for the vacant Celtic managerial position has meant his continued occupation of the post beyond the Euros has been cast in doubt, meanwhile. Robertson is circumspect over how the situation may play out. “I’ll let the manager talk about that,” the left-back said. “ I’m not sure what is happening with the Celtic job. I’m very happy with him being the Scotland manager. We’ve come over a lot of hurdles with him and we’ve still got a few hurdles to go. I believe he is committed to that. He loves the Scotland job and he loves working with this group of boys. Whatever decision he makes, if there is a decision to make, will be the best for him. And we’ll deal with that. There is no reason to think that he’s going to leave. Until that changes, we will keep working under him and he will keep doing what he is doing. Then we’ll see what happens.”