Scotland have an added incentive to finish their Nations League campaign strongly, with a place at the 2022 FIFA World Cup potentially up for grabs.
The Scots - fresh from qualifying for next year’s Euros - head to Israel on Wednesday night looking to cement top spot of their Nations League group.
Steve Clarke’s men will want to rectify Sunday’s defeat to Slovakia in their last appearance on the international stage, which brought an end to the Scot’s nine-game unbeaten run.
That disappointment came just days after the Tartan Army won a dramatic penalty shootout against Serbia to earn a place at the 2020 UEFA European Championships.
It is the first time Scotland have qualified for a major men’s international tournament in 22 years.
The prospect of keeping a nation’s hopes of reaching the World Cup alive would only serve to strengthen the belief that Scottish football is experiencing a renaissance.
Here’s how they could do it…
What is the UEFA Nations League?
The Nations League was introduced in 2018 to improve the quality of national football matches away from major tournaments and qualifiers.
It is a competitive alternative to friendly matches, which sees national teams across Europe play against other national teams of similar quality.
The 55 competing national teams were divided into four leagues, League A to League D, with the highest UEFA ranked teams placed in A and the lowest in D at the end of the inaugural 2018/19 competition.
Each league is then split into different groups with teams facing home and away matches against their group opponents, with promotion and relegation at the end of each campaign.
The four group winners in League A qualify for the semi-finals to determine who competes in the final and the third-place play-off.
Portugal won the inaugural Nations League last summer.
How can Scotland win their Nations League group?
In short, beat Israel and Scotland are guaranteed to finish top of their group.
Scotland are a point ahead of nearest challengers, Czech Republic, ahead of the final round of games in their League B Group 2.
Czech Republic are home to Slovakia in their final group match. If they draw then Scotland would only need a point from their match against Israel.
How can Scotland claim a World Cup play off spot?
If Scotland win their group then they are well placed to be in the play off shake up.
That is because a World Cup play off spot is granted to the top two Nations League group winners who don’t reach Qatar through the traditional qualifying campaign.
The two teams will go into a pot of 12 to compete in the World Cup European play offs in March 2022, which will see three teams emerge with qualification to the showpiece event in Qatar.
League A of the Nations League is packed with the world’s top football nations, with Italy, Belgium, France and Germany all currently leading the way in their respective groups.
It is unlikely these nations won’t qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar through the qualifying campaign - meaning group winners in League B will probably take part in the play off.
Scotland are on 10 points going into the final game, behind Group 1 leaders Austria (12 points) and Group 4 leaders Wales (13 points). Russia lead Group 3 with 8 points.
When is the 2022 World Cup qualifying draw taking place for European teams?
Scotland will find out who they will face in the traditional qualifying process when the draw is made on 7 December 2020.
The draw will be held in Zurich though will be a virtual event due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
What has Steve Clarke said about Scotland’s World Cup hopes?
Talking to the assembled press ahead of Scotland’s trip to Israel, Clarke said World Cup qualification was his team’s focus.
He said: “This is another step on the road to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, which is where we want to be. So from now on, really until April, the focus is on the World Cup.
“This game can give us a chance to be in a play-off for it as a back-up.
“We want to qualify as of right and we look forward to the draw for the World Cup qualifiers in December.
“We’ll be in pot three, which is a little bit of progress. We’ve gone from League C in the Nations League to League B – which is progress – and we’re one win away from the A league.
“So we want to keep progressing. In football you don’t want to stand still because everybody runs past you.
“Maybe that’s what happened over the last 20-odd years and we don’t want that to happen to us.
“As we sit here right now we don’t know what (World Cup qualifying) group will be or who we’ll be playing against.
“But we should be targeting a play-off place through the group stages. If we don’t get one then hopefully we’ll have managed to get one through the back-up of the play-off place (through the Nations League).”