The moment tournament-starved Scotland fans have been waiting for since 10.23pm on 12 November is only one week away. Scotland’s first major finals game since 1998 is now the very next game.
Yesterday Luxembourg, tomorrow the world. Well, Europe at least. It sends off all kinds of warning signals when one is tempted to think optimistic thoughts, but, whisper it, Scotland are in a good place.
Two defeats in 16 games, some bright, young talent – with specific reference to a currently somewhat dazed teenager from Ayrshire – and still another seven days to fine tune the shortcomings that were evident in the Stade Jose Barthel last night, such as finishing off crosses. There is sufficient evidence to suggest Scotland are heading into the tournament in something nearing peak condition.
No one can welcome the reasons for Euro 2020’s delay, but the extra year means it has become very timely as far as a young man called Billy Gilmour is concerned.
The stadium in Luxembourg City is named after the winner of the country's one and only Olympic gold medal, when Barthel was the surprise 1500m final victor in Helsinki in 1952. Perhaps Scotland can likewise come in from the cold to shock their more-fancied rivals.
Steve Clarke will now head away with his dossier and digest his latest findings, with Scotland now scheduled to move to their training base outside Middlesborough. At the top of one page, he might well have scrawled Gilmour’s name.
He might even have underscored this entry a few times. The slightly left field, somewhat mischievous question regarding whether the Chelsea midfielder starts against Czech Republic is now an urgent and very sensible one to ask.
It’s one of the main reasons Clarke will experience some more sleepless nights as he prepares to name the most eagerly awaited XI of his managerial career to date.
Those fringe players wishing to attract the manager’s attention with a dashing cameo have no further opportunity to do so. It’s just as well Gilmour had already made the most of his truncated shift in Luxembourg after replacing Callum McGregor at half-time.
There is the very real prospect that the Chelsea midfielder, who turns 20 later this week, could line up at Hampden next week having not yet played 90 minutes of senior international football. In fact, when last night’s thirty or so minutes are added to the nine he enjoyed on his debut against the Netherlands last week, it does not even add up to one half of football. And yet, and yet…..He could be Scotland’s version of Gazza at Italia 90, just a more level-headed one.
There can be no doubts about his talent nor his temperament. One potential impediment is the after-effects of the bang to the head he sustained last night. Clarke, however, sought to douse these concerns, reminding reporters that the midfielder is “from Ardrossan – you have to be tough to come from that part of the world”.
Never mind playing at Hampden, Gilmour was almost knocked into next week after a horrendous body check by Olivier Thill with 15 minutes left. The sudden swarm of teammates gathering to protect Gilmour and take issue with Thill’s elbow-first assault said it all about the viciousness of the challenge and togetherness in this squad.
Being a sub who is then subbed off is not normally something to celebrate. But as well as a requirement to comply with health guidelines, particularly in the case of a head knock, there was almost certainly an element of Clarke having already seen enough. Gilmour is ready.
Luxembourg are not Czech Republic. They are not even a middle-ranking football nation. But it’s not as if Gilmour still needs to prove himself against quality opposition. He has played all 90 minutes of a Premier League win against Manchester City as recently as last month.
As for last night, he slipped very comfortably into a position just in front of the back four and started directing play almost immediately. He was gesturing at teammates to indicate where he wanted them to be and almost scored just before the hour mark after some intricate footwork on the edge of the box.
His downcast look at not being permitted to carry on was as if he’d been told he was being given a set of keys for his birthday – for the front door rather than a new car.
His assailant, Thill, should have been sent off, which is ironic as Clarke’s previous biggest frustration, other than the chances scorned by Lyndon Dykes and goalscorer Che Adams, was seeing Luxembourg defender Vahid Selimovic shown the red card for an innocuous tug on Dykes after 34 minutes. It severely reduced the value of the test.
Still, even against ten men, the Scots could not finish off their opponents, thanks chiefly to wayward finishing. Is it concerning to be left with as many questions as answers at this stage? Being optimistic, it identifies a manager with options.
There was significant alarm when the Uefa tactical line-ups graphic showed Declan Gallagher on the wing. Had Clarke eaten a bad prawn at Scotland's La Finca resort and started hallucinating? Fortunately, the Aberdeen defender started in the middle of three centre-halves – where he performed so admirably against Serbia on the night Scotland qualified.
He has since lost his place but did little wrong here before being replaced by Scott McKenna. In marked contrast to Gilmour, the 30-year-old Gallagher is Scotland's oldest outfield player. He, too, could start next week.
Clarke will recall the centre-half's fine performance when tasked with keeping burly Serbian frontman Aleksandar Mitrovic quiet. A mano-mano battle with Czech Republic No 9 Patrik Schick might be just up his street.