Scotland’s series of autumn internationals ended in disappointing fashion with the back-to back defeats in Slovakia and Israel.
Having looked odds-on to gain promotion to League A, our inability to score proved costly, and it was a deflating end to an exciting period.
Adding to the frustration was the Under 21s’ failure to emulate their senior counterparts. The youngsters needed only to win one of their last two qualifiers, but couldn’t do so, and so their long wait to reach a Euro Finals goes on.
I attended their last appearance, commentating on the semi-final against Spain and third place play-off with France in Barcelona in 1996. Back then, Tommy Craig’s side included the likes of Steven Pressley, Jackie McNamara and Christian Dailly, all of whom went on to have impressive international careers, and that has to be the aim for Scot Gemmill’s kids.
They will be hurting right now, but have to channel that in a positive way and try to catch Steve Clarke’s eye in the coming months.
Lewis Ferguson, Ross McCrorie and Allan Campbell are the most obvious contenders for a call-up, but with the midfield being so strong, they may have to rely on injuries to open up a berth in the squad for next summer.
Given the issues we have up front in trying to find a replacement or back-up to Lyndon Dykes, there may be an opportunity for an on-form striker to break through.
If Kevin Nisbet maintains his run, he might have a chance, and I would love to see what Fraser Hornby has to offer, but he has had only limited game-time at Reims, and that would have to change significantly.
The big problem for the contenders is that Scotland aren’t in action until next March when they will play three World Cup qualifiers in the space of a week; that will not be the time for Steve Clarke to experiment.
There will be warm-up matches before the Euro 2020 Finals, but those might well come too late.
In truth, the manager will already know the bulk of his 23-man squad, and there might be as few as one or two places up for grabs. Of course, that won’t stop all of us speculating over who might make it. Right now, and assuming everyone is fit, these are the players I think he will choose…
Marshall, Gordon, McLaughlin.
O’Donnell, McTominay, Gallagher, Tierney, Robertson, McKenna, Palmer, Considine and Cooper.
Jack, McGregor, Armstrong, Christie, McLean and McGinn.
Dykes, Griffiths, Fraser, Forrest and McBurnie.
The last named of those has provoked more discussion and debate than any other, and I have yet to see anything that convinces me Oli McBurnie is an international class striker, but the manager clearly likes him, and – unless another similar player emerges from nowhere – he will be heading to the finals.
There are a few players on the fringe of selection and, if they have strong seasons, might just force their way in.
It is likely that at least one of those named above will be injured, but I hope that’s not the case; after such a lengthy wait, it would be heart-breaking for anyone to miss out under those circumstances.
Women will be keen to keep up good run
This time next week, the Scotland women’s national team will be in the middle of their own crucial double-header.
They start with a game against Portugal in Lisbon before taking on current group leaders Finland at Easter Road. It is a three-way shoot-out with two places up for grabs, either automatically or through the playoffs, and, having reached the last two major finals, Shelley Kerr’s team will be desperate to maintain that run.
She described the squad as one of the strongest she has assembled; it is now up to the girls to prove that.
If they keep in contention following the next two matches, it may well come down to the home encounter with the Portuguese, a fixture postponed during lockdown and which has yet to be rescheduled.