Paul Hartley is determined to see this Scotland side succeed where his so narrowly fell short.
The Cove Rangers boss, who turned out for Hearts, Celtic, Bristol City and Aberdeen during his playing career, was in Alex McLeish’s team to face Italy in their do-or-die Euro 2008 qualifier against Italy.
Barry Ferguson had levelled up Luca Toni’s opener at Hampden Park and Scotland stood with a puncher’s chance of making the tournament.
What happened at the end of the game is well-documented. Referee Manuel Gonzalez awarded the Italians a free-kick for a perceived foul by Alan Hutton on Giorgio Chiellini, despite the centre-half appearing to barge his Scotland counterpart to the turf.
Andrea Pirlo delivered the free-kick, Christian Panucci rose among the crowd to meet the ball and Scotland hearts were shattered once again.
A mere 13 years on from that heartbreaking night in a Glasgow downpour, Scotland can put so much right with a win 1700 miles away in Belgrade against Serbia tonight.
“I’m a big Scotland supporter and we’re desperate to get to the Euros. I know it’s delayed but I’m desperate for us to win. We’ve got a great opportunity in a tough game. I’m right behind the team.
“It’s definitely as big as 2007 – it’s the next biggest game we’ve had in that period. We’re all behind the country, behind Steve Clarke. We’re winning games just now and people are still criticising us because we’re playing in a certain manner, a certain style. You can’t please everybody.
“But the manager has come in and made us hard to beat, with a good squad of players there. We’d take a 1-0 right now.”
There are some similarities between that qualifying campaign under McLeish and the one Steve Clarke has helped construct now. Scotland are well-organised, difficult to beat and have picked up results few people expected them to.
Scotland beat France home and away in the space of a year and defeated 2006 World Cup quarter-finalists Ukraine at Hampden 3-1. The last-minute defeat to Italy deprived them of a place in Austria and Switzerland by two points.
In this round Scotland have beaten Czech Republic home and away, albeit the latter when their opponents were decimated by Covid-19 call-offs. They have also beaten Slovakia at home 1-0 and face the same opposition in Bratislava on Sunday.
A win against Serbia tonight in the play-offs would end more than two decades of near-misses. Scotland’s last major tournament is – still – the 1998 World Cup in France.
“It was a big game against Italy and we came so close,” added Hartley. “It was the exact same type of game. Obviously the supporters won’t be there but everyone in the country is rooting for them. We’re desperate to get to a tournament for the first time in 22 years.
“Hopefully VAR can help us. If we would have had VAR that night it never would have been a free-kick, then Panucci scores. I watched the game last week – you need a bit of luck in these games.
“We were well-organised and well-drilled and it looks like Steve has done the same. Hopefully it’ll take something special to win the game.
“How big it would it be? That’s why we’re all rooting for them. That’s why we’re all watching on the TV, watching other countries at these tournaments. We want to be watching Scotland.”