The road back to collective credibility for Scottish football in European club competitions remains long and winding.
But perhaps for the first time in the best part of a decade, there has at least been a hint of encouragement this week that a corner is being turned.
Celtic’s 3-1 win over Rosenborg in the first leg of their Champions League second qualifying round tie on Wednesday night was followed up 24 hours later by victories for both Rangers and Hibs alongside Aberdeen’s creditable draw with Burnley in the Europa League.
All four Scottish clubs now have a genuine opportunity to make further progress when they face their return fixtures next week and build upon as promising a start to a European campaign the country has experienced for many years.
For too long, the depressing decline of Scotland’s Uefa coefficient ranking has appeared irreparable. It is a slump which has seen our teams reduced to entering the European fray along with the rest of the continent’s minnows in the first qualifying rounds.
That won’t be changing in the short term. Scotland dropped to 26th in the 2017-18 country coefficient rankings, its lowest placing for 21 years. Uefa uses those rankings, compiled over a five-year period, to decide how many clubs from each country will play in the Champions League and Europa League and at which stage they will enter those tournaments.
Each year’s final rankings table is used to determine the composition of the club competitions two seasons later, so the 2017-18 list will come into effect for the 2019-20 campaign.
That means the first opportunity Scottish clubs have to make a difference is by extending the current run of positive results this season and climb the rankings to at least 19th place. That is the position when the Scottish Premiership winners would be “promoted” to entering the Champions League in the second qualifying round in the 2020-21 season. If Scotland could get to 18th place, then one of the three Europa League participants would also enter at a more advanced stage in the third qualifying round. They are small but, from Scottish football’s current perspective, not insignificant incentives.
The bigger prize would come if Scotland could force its way back into the top 15 of the rankings, a status it has not had since 2011. That sees two clubs going into the Champions League qualifiers and three in the Europa League.
In the provisional 2018-19 country coefficient table, Scotland have already climbed a couple of places to 24th as a consequence of the bright start made by Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Aberdeen.
Of the ten matches played so far by the four teams, there have been eight victories and two draws. That has reaped a decent harvest of coefficient points. In the qualifying rounds, one point is awarded for a win with half a point for a draw. In the group stages, that is doubled to two points for a win and one point for a draw.
Serbia currently occupy 19th place in the 2018-19 table with Poland, Belarus, Sweden and Azerbaijan behind them and ahead of Scotland. All of them are within reach if the Scottish clubs can add to the tally over the next few weeks.
More often than not in recent years, Celtic have been left to fly the flag on their own while Scotland’s other clubs have stumbled to a series of defeats against opponents from countries which once would have been regarded as cannon fodder for our teams in Europe.
Falkirk’s elimination at the hands of Liechtenstein side Vaduz in 2009 started an unwelcome trend which has subsequently included Motherwell losing to Stjarnan of Iceland, St Johnstone exiting at the hands of Armenian team Alashkert, Hearts losing out to Birkirkara of Malta and Rangers being humiliated by Luxembourg part-timers Progres Niederkorn last year.
All have had a damaging effect on the coefficient ranking which hasn’t posted a significantly healthy return for Scotland since the 2007-08 season when Rangers (Uefa Cup runners-up), Celtic (last 16 of Champions League) and Aberdeen (last 32 of Uefa Cup) all enjoyed extended European runs.
The return of those heady days is perhaps too much to hope for. Certainly, no-one should be getting ahead of themselves when Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Aberdeen will all remain another two qualifying rounds away from group stage football even if they can finish the job and win their respective ties next week.
Some cautious optimism, however, can be excused. Celtic are now course and distance specialists in the Champions League qualifiers under Brendan Rodgers, while Rangers already look to have been given an injection of resilience and organisation by Steven Gerrard, which could at least take them to the play-off round of the Europa League.
If Hibs can overcome Asteras in Greece next Thursday, they will feel they have an even chance of defeating likely opponents Molde in the third qualifying round.
Aberdeen clearly have the toughest task, both in finding a way past English Premier League side Burnley at Turf Moor next week and, should they progress, against big-spending Turkish club Basaksehir in the next round.
Scottish football should keep its fingers crossed that the collective feelgood factor on the European stage can continue for just a little bit longer yet.