Rangers in Europe, a cup final without Celtic, Scotland at Wembley: Key dates for Scottish football in 2021
From Scotland's first appearance in a major finals in 22 years to the tantalising prospect of fans returning to stadiums in the near future, there is reason for hope and optimism.
Here we take a look at the key dates to look out for across 2021 ...
The new year kicks off with a derby cracker as Rangers and Celtic go head-to-head at Ibrox on the 2nd. The match could either make-or-break Celtic's 10-in-a-row bid with Neil Lennon's side needing to claw back points on their rivals. For Rangers, the opportunity is there to take a significant step closer to a title that has eluded them since 2011. The weekend of the 23rd/24th also sees the Betfred Cup semi-finals at Hampden where Hibs face St Johnstone and St Mirren take on Livingston.
It is a big month for Rangers as they face Royal Antwerp in the Europa League last 32, with the first leg in Belgium on the 18th followed by the return at Ibrox on the 25th. After finishing top of their group, Steven Gerrard's top seeds will be hopeful of going at least one step further in the competition. The weekend of the 20th also sees the big guns enter the fourth round of the Scottish Cup – often notorious for a giant-killing act. The month ends with the Betfred Cup final on the 28th. For the first time since 2016, a team other than Celtic will be lifting a domestic trophy.
It's all about Scotland as the national team kicks off its World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign with three matches in seven days. Getting off to a good start at home to Austria on the 25th will be crucial to Steve Clarke's men, before the latest forage into Israel on the 28th followed by a return to Hampden for a match against the Faroe Islands on the 31st. Nine points would be nice ... The third Old Firm fixture of the season is due to take place at Celtic Park on the 20th, by which time the title race will be entering the home straight.
The race for the top six concludes as the Scottish Premiership splits after matchday 33, which takes place over the weekend of 3rd/4th. Should Rangers make it past Antwerp they will have a Europa League quarter-final to look forward to with the first leg on the 8th followed by the second leg a week later. In between are the Scottish Cup semi-finals at Hampden over the weekend of 10th/11th. The Scottish Championship season concludes on the final day of the month which, unusually, is a full Friday night card. Will Hearts be celebrating a return to the top flight or will another club defy the odds and pip them to the title?
The first day of the month sees the conclusion of League One and League Two. It's then straight into play-offs with the battle for a place in the Premiership spanning almost the entire month with three two-legged rounds starting with the quarter-finals on the 5th and 8th. The Championship, League One and Pyramid play-offs also take place with promotion and relegation on the line. May's showpiece event, the Scottish Cup final, takes place at Hampden on the 8th with the Scottish Premiership season concluding the following weekend. The month concludes with the Europa League final in Gdansk on the 26th and the Champions League final in Istanbul three days later.
A date the nation has waited a generation for as Scotland, at long last, return to the top table of international football with their first match in a major finals since 1998. Steve Clarke's men kick off their Euro 2021 campaign with their Group D opener against the Czech Republic at Hampden on the 14th, followed by the big one against England at Wembley on the 18th. Scotland then return to Glasgow to tackle World Cup runners-up Croatia on the 22nd. The last 16 ties take place from the 27th to the 29th with one of the games taking place at Hampden. We can but dream ...
The Euros concludes with the final at Wembley on July 11 but at club level things will only just be starting to crank up again as Scotland’s Champions League and Europa League representatives enter the initial quallifying rounds. On the domestic front, the Betfred Cup group matches will signal the start of the 2021/22 campaign. The rumour mill will also be getting into full swing when the summer transfer window opens.
A new league season will get underway in Scotland and while it is unlikely things will be completely back to normal, clubs will be hopeful of kicking off with at least some spectators in attendance as the previous campaign's championship flags are unfurled.
The focus shifts back to the international scene as Scotland kick off the month with, on paper, their toughest match of their World Cup 2022 qualifying group, away to Denmark, on the 1st. Steve Clarke's side return to Hampden to face Moldova on the 4th before completing three games in seven days with a trip to Austria on the 7th. A tough triple-header that could well determine whether Scotland will be heading to Qatar.
An important week for Scotland when they host Israel on the 9th before visiting Faroe Islands three days later. Six points will be a must ...
A busy year for the national side concludes with a trip to Moldova on the 12th followed by the final World Cup qualification group match at home to Denmark three days later. Beat the Danes to qualify? Steve Clarke and the rest of the country would bite your hand off for that scenario right now ...
Christmas again, already?