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Paul Third: Scenes in Serbia must be just the start for Scotland as World Cup qualifying draw looms

Scotland celebrate qualifying for the Euros in Serbia.
Scotland celebrate qualifying for the Euros in Serbia.

Joyous scenes greeted Scotland’s qualification for next summer’s Euros recently – now the draw will be made for World Cup qualifying.

The World Cup finals in France in 1998 feel like a lifetime ago, and that is why grown adults wept like babies at the thought of their own children finally getting the chance to experience what following Scotland in a major tournament feels like.

As a father of a football-daft 20-year-old, I’m not ashamed to say I had a lump in my throat when David Marshall dived to save the vital spot-kick in Serbia which sent us back to the big stage for the first time in decades.

The history books will show it was Steve Clarke who helped end years of anguish in the international wilderness, but the manager’s feat in leading the national team to the Euros cannot be the end of the journey.

We’ve overcome what has clearly been a huge psychological barrier for many of the players and managers in getting there and while there is no doubt we are going to party like it is 1998 all over again next June, it must be just the start.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke.
Scotland manager Steve Clarke.

It is time to open a new chapter – one full of moments like the one in Serbia last month where we sat glued to the drama unfolding before our eyes going through moments of extreme stress and tension before the glorious release and celebrations got under way.

The road to Euro 2020 has been travelled. Now it’s time for Scotland to build a new route towards the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

The draw for the qualifying campaign will be made today and it will certainly be nice to look at the draw with a renewed sense of expectation to go with the hope we all feel.

There will be 10 groups selected today. The winners of each group will qualify for the finals with the runners-up securing a play-off place.

Scotland are in pot three for the World Cup draw, meaning they avoid Russia, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Czech Republic, Norway, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Greece and Finland.

Looking at the other pots it is clear we have a tough task ahead of us whoever we get, but clearly there are varying degrees of difficulty.

The worst-case scenario would be finding ourselves in a qualifying group alongside Belgium, Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia and Malta.

The best draw we could hope for would be Denmark, Romania, Luxembourg, Andorra and San Marino.

But regardless of which names are written on the pieces of paper within those balls, which look like they have come from a giant Kinder Surprise chocolate egg, it’s going to be tough.

We’re used to tough though… we’re not used to the feeling of confidence that we have a genuine chance of getting out of this group.

That’s the part that makes us all feel uncomfortable. A rumbling in the pit of the stomach which has us convinced we can do this.

Those dreams are in the hands of Clarke and his players, who will have our unwavering support, but what we do not know is how this group of players is going to handle a new sense of pressure and expectation which comes with the task ahead.

But we should be allowed to dare to dream we are at the dawn of a new era. Shouldn’t we?

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