The long absence of the senior Scotland side from major tournament finals, which will stretch beyond 22 years if they fail to qualify for the Euro 2020, is dismally well documented.
What attracts less attention – but perhaps merits just as much concern – is Scotland’s even lengthier litany of failure at under-21 level. Not since the summer of 1996, when the Scots shared a stage with future superstars such as Patrick Vieira, Fabio Cannavaro and Raul in Barcelona, have they reached the finals of the European Under-21 Championship. If Scot Gemmill’s current crop miss out on the next finals, to be co-hosted by Hungary and Slovenia in 2021, then a quarter of a century will have elapsed without the country’s best young players mixing it with Europe’s elite at the business end of the tournament. It’s a sad indictment of the standard of player being produced by Scotland’s clubs and the academy system.
The number of teams appearing at the finals has been increased from 12 to 16 for the 2021 competition, leaving 14 places up for grabs to join the two hosts. Scotland began their qualifying campaign with a laboured 2-0 win over San Marino in Paisley on Thursday night and face a tougher test away to top seeds Croatia on Tuesday.
If there is a ray of hope that the run of 12 failed campaigns might be halted, it comes in the shape of 18-year-old Chelsea prodigy Billy Gilmour who attracted rave reviews on Thursday.