While Scotland boss Steve Clarke has enjoyed the year past, he is never far from looking at the next challenge.
That will come in the shape of Ukraine, who visit Hampden Park at the end of March with the chance to get to a play-off final for the World Cup in Qatar.
Scotland’s form at the back end of the campaign helped make that prospect a reality, delivering six wins on the bounce to finish second in their qualifying group behind Denmark.
Clarke is optimistic for the challenge ahead, with Ukraine returning to the ground where they beat Sweden at this summer’s Euros.
“I think we can compete with Ukraine. For me it was a fair draw,” said Clarke. “It’s a 50-50 game. They are a good team I have had a little look at them briefly on video, not in-depth. They have good players and they are in a good way.
“They will come to Hampden and be relatively tough to beat. They have good quality players. We will need to be on our best behaviour in the game.
“That was from almost the last touch of the game so they will have good memories of Hampden as well. They won’t have too many fears about coming back but hopefully we will get a full house and the place will be rocking like it has been in the last two home games.”
After the latest round of restrictions announced this week, there has been significant concern about reducing the capacity of stadiums to 500 for at least the next three weeks.
Premiership clubs agreed to suspend two rounds of fixtures after Boxing Day, in a bid to get them played with capacity crowds, and Clarke hopes the March fixture at Hampden will be unaffected.
He added: “Hopefully the vaccination programme goes well and starts to take effect. We are going to have a period of time where the infections and hospitalisations are going to go up a bit but if we can control it, and have not too many deaths, and don’t overwhelm the system, then by the time we get to March hopefully we are in a better place.
“We still have a bit of time before March so I wouldn’t like to think Covid will affect the games in March.”
Scotland have also been drawn to face Ukraine in the next iteration of the Nations League, as well as Ireland and Armenia.
Topping their group would see them promoted to the top tier of the competition, where they could face off with the likes of Italy, Germany and Spain.
“We’ve got different teams to play against,” added Clarke. “Armenia we have never faced before so that will be good and the nature of the Nations League is good because you are playing against teams on a similar level to you.
“It should be a very competitive group and hopefully we can improve enough to finish top of that group. If we can we can make another step forward.”
Changes to the Nations League have been mooted from 2024, with the 10 South American countries invited, while Fifa’s hopes of pushing through a biennial World Cup have been met by stern resistance.
“I’m not too keen on the World Cup proposal,” said Clarke. “The four-year period with the Euros in between fits quite well into the international calendar and I’m happy with that. Maybe it’s because I am a traditionalist that I enjoy that cycle.
“The idea of the South American teams joining the Nations League is interesting and something that might be good for the competition.
“Although we can’t complain about it the way it is because it’s a competition that helped us to qualify for Euro 2020.
“I would need to see in detail how it’s going to work. The idea in principle is quite good.”
The Scotland national team boss has not spoken to Newcastle midfielder Ryan Fraser since his withdrawal from the camp prior to last month’s games.
Fraser cited an injury for pulling out but was then spotted training with his club, ahead of new manager Eddie Howe starting his reign.
“I haven’t spoken to Ryan. Obviously he wasn’t involved through his own choice in the November games,” said Clarke. “To be honest I don’t think we missed him, I thought the team was good in both games so Ryan could have his work cut out to be back in the squad.
“That’s just the nature of the competition for places. It’s not a squad that you want to give up your place in lightly.
“It’s a conversation for March. He has to get into his team. He doesn’t play regularly at Newcastle, he is in and out of the team. I wouldn’t like to think the whole year ends up speaking about someone who’s chosen not to be in the squad rather than the boys who have.”
We caught up with Men's Head Coach Steve Clarke to reflect on a memorable 2021.
Steve chats about our World Cup qualifiers early in the year, EURO 2020 & the tournament's impact on the squad and a fantastic end to the year.
➡️ Watch in full: https://t.co/Vs1pT5z3kL
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) December 22, 2021
But overall it has been a fond year to reflect on for Clarke, with the European Championships and the impressive end to the World Cup qualifying campaign.
“It’s been a good year, I have enjoyed the year,” he said. “I have enjoyed the evolution of the team and the squad.
“I think if you take it from when we beat Serbia there have been a lot of changes to the squad. There were players dropping out unfortunately, with injuries and whatever.
“There has been evolution of staff as well. It has kept me on my toes having to find other people to come in and work with the squad.
“When you think of the squad that was with us when I first started, the whole evolution of players and staff over the period of time I have been in charge has been quite significant.
“But it has been nice to be part of the journey and I think it’s one that can continue.”