Stephen Halliday: Scotland to learn what they could win if they hit play-off Bullseye

Tantalising prize: Then manager Craig Brown with fans at Scotland's last major finals, the 1998 World Cup. Picture: Owen Humphries/PA
Tantalising prize: Then manager Craig Brown with fans at Scotland's last major finals, the 1998 World Cup. Picture: Owen Humphries/PA
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For the first time in 22 years, Scotland’s name is on the guest list when the draw is made for a major tournament finals.

At 5pm today, the great and good of Uefa will be gathered at the Romexpo exhibition centre in Bucharest to determine the composition of the six groups for next summer’s multi-city hosted Euro 2020 extravaganza.

For those Tartan Army members who tune in to the live TV coverage of the draw, it may just feel like watching an old episode of the classic game show Bullseye in reverse.

If you are too young to remember it and haven’t yet discovered the regular repeat showings on the Challenge TV channel, the darts-based quiz programme regularly played the cruellest of twists on its participants.

Having gambled all on a shot at the mystery star prize at the end of the show, those who failed to hit the required target with their darts would have a consoling arm placed around them by avuncular host Jim Bowen who declared, “Let’s have a look at what you could have won” as screens were drawn back to reveal a luxury speedboat or car.

The difference for Scotland manager Steve Clarke and his players is that the Euro 2020 finals draw will tantalise them with the knowledge of what their prize could be even before they have had their shot at hitting the nation’s long coveted bullseye in the play-offs next March.

It will certainly crystallise just how agonising it will be for everyone connected with Scottish football if the national team are yet again on the outside looking 
in when the tournament gets under way.

If Clarke can somehow plot a path through the play-off semi-final at home to Israel and then the final away to either Norway or Serbia, then Monday 15 June 2020 will be one of the most momentous days in the history of the national team.

That is when Scotland would play their opening fixture in Group D at Hampden, one of the 12 major city stadia staging the finals.

The Scots would also have home advantage for their second group game four days later before finishing off the section against top seeds England at Wembley.

The winners of Scotland’s play-off path will be in the fourth pot of seeds in the draw. While that could entail the fearsome proposition of facing world champions France from pot two and reigning European champions Portugal from pot three, there are other scenarios which may give Clarke’s squad a decent shot at creating history.

The other potential opponents from pot two are Poland, Switzerland and Croatia, all fine sides who qualified in style, while the remaining teams from pot three who could go into Group D are Turkey, Austria, Sweden and Czech Republic. For Scotland, playing any of those teams at Hampden in a tournament which will see even the four best third-placed nations from the six groups qualify for the last 16 would offer a golden opportunity to progress beyond the group stage of a major finals for the first time.

Simply being part of Euro 2020 will do for a start after more than two decades of occasional glorious failure but, more often than not, chronic mediocrity.

It is almost 22 years to the day since Craig Brown sat in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome watching the draw for the 1998 World Cup Finals bracket Scotland in Group A alongside Brazil, Norway and Morocco.

Clarke still has work to do if he is to become the first manager since Brown to lead Scotland on to international football’s main stage.

To paraphrase the late Jim Bowen, if he falls short of the target next March, then he will be leaving empty-handed.