The delayed Euro 2020 finals kicked-off in Rome last night, but while there are attractive fixtures over the weekend – with England v Croatia of particular interest – we are all focused on Monday afternoon, and the long-awaited return of Scotland to the big stage.
It has been an unimaginable drought for the national team after the relative success over a couple of decades from the mid-1970s, but at 2pm on June 14, the wait will finally be over.
France 98 seems like a lifetime ago. It was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my broadcasting career, a crazy two-and-a-half weeks during which everything that could go wrong did, but we somehow always got on air, and the memories live with me to this day.
Taking on the Czech Republic at Hampden would not, under other circumstances, quite live up to facing Brazil at the Stade de France to open the World Cup finals. But, given our 23-year absence from the top table, Monday is going to feel very special indeed.
A whole generation of players and fans has missed out on occasions such as this and the growing anticipation and excitement has been entirely understandable.
The warm-up matches went fine, Steve Clarke got to see all his outfield players in action, and we head for the tournament unbeaten in five games in 2021.
As he has admitted, the manager has selection headaches, but not too many of them.
As far as I am concerned, eight players are already certainties to start the opener. I expect David Marshall to get the nod over Craig Gordon, with Jack Hendry and Kieran Tierney filling two of the three central defensive positions. For me, the other is a toss-up between Grant Hanley and Liam Cooper.
Stephen O’Donnell and captain Andy Robertson will be the wing-backs with Scott McTominay and Callum McGregor anchoring the midfield and John McGinn in a more advanced role, but it is ahead of them where Clarke really does have big decisions to make.
I cannot see him start the group with two up front, so it will be either Lyndon Dykes or Ché Adams leading the line. Personally, I would favour the Southampton striker. The question of who fills the other slot could be debated for hours.
Ryan Christie has made a big impact at international level, but hasn’t had the best of seasons. Ryan Fraser and James Forrest both had injury-disrupted campaigns, but are fit again, and each could put forward a good case for inclusion. Stuart Armstrong comes to the Euros after an excellent 2020-21 with his club, and then there is the young maestro, Billy Gilmour.
I would be surprised, but delighted, if Clarke starts the Chelsea teenager, and given his self-belief and talent, I have no doubt Billy would relish the opportunity.
However, I think it more likely any contribution he makes against the Czechs will be from the bench, and on balance, I would expect Armstrong to secure that remaining place.
It is a well-balanced team, one that excites me, and given the strength in depth we have, I see no reason why Clarke’s Scotland cannot make history at Euro 2020. It will depend on a strong start, and a win on Monday might well be required.
Whatever happens, it is going to be a joy to experience once again the range of emotions that comes with Scotland competing at a major finals.
Aberdeen fans waiting for some big news?
While other Premiership clubs were announcing new signings in the last couple of weeks, it had all gone quiet at Pittodrie.
The deals to bring in Jack Gurr and Christian Ramirez from the States have now been done, although the latter will need official approval, and that brings to five the number of new faces, which represents a decent freshening-up of the squad.
But more will be needed if the Dons are to be ready to put in a decent challenge in the coming season, and it seems many fans are waiting for some big news to persuade them to renew or buy season tickets.
Around 6,000 have already been sold, which is a decent effort, but that’s significantly less than Hibernian and Hearts have shifted, and Aberdeen are going to need to up their sales ahead of the campaign kicking-off.