Thankfully, the wait for Scotland to secure our qualification for Euro 2024 did not drag on too long, Spain did the business in Oslo, and the Tartan Army are Germany-bound next summer.
It would have been nice to have clinched our place at the finals while playing, but that was nothing more than a minor irritation, and on reflection, it was for the best that it was all resolved as quickly as possible.
Despite the national team being in a very different place these days, I would not have relished the prospect of a trip to Tbilisi – where we have failed to score and lost on our two previous visits – and had that gone wrong, the group-closer against Norway would have been an unbearably nerve-wracking evening.
There are now no such concerns, and all Steve Clarke and his players have to focus on is closing it all out in a manner befitting what has so far been an outstanding campaign.
From the opener against Cyprus, when Scott McTominay came off the bench to net a late double, the squad has looked confident and assured.
They followed that with the headline win over Spain, the Manchester United midfielder again netting a brace, and then came the victory which really transformed the group, and set us up for Germany.
The team had struggled for much of the game in Oslo and trailed to Haaland’s penalty for Norway. Out of nowhere, Lyndon Dykes equalised, and then, even more improbably, substitute Kenny McLean stroked home an outstanding winner.
The back-to-back triumphs over Georgia and Cyprus which followed were routine and put us in a near unassailable position. McTominay was on the scoresheet in both, at that stage the top marksman in the competition, as he cemented his place as our man of the qualification campaign.
Even our most recent qualifier, the return with Spain in Seville, looked likely to produce a positive result.
Having defended solidly, we seemed to have taken an unlikely lead through Scott’s wonder strike, only to have that eventually ruled out by VAR. The decision was belated, but ultimately correct, and the Spanish tied the game up in the final 20 minutes.
That encounter was part of a tough triple-header, sandwiched by heavy losses to England and France in friendlies.
It meant we have now suffered three successive defeats, albeit against the countries ranked first, second and sixth in the Uefa rankings, and top-10 in the FIFA world list.
The manager was prepared to take that on the chin, and I fully understand why he was keen to test his side against the best. If nothing else, it gave us a clear indication of how far we still have to go if we are to compete at the very highest level.
We are not there yet, we might never get there, but the current squad is the equal of most teams across the continent, and there is good reason to believe we can make an impression at the finals next June, with a first ever qualification from the group stage a genuine possibility.
Clarke will now be focused on a strong conclusion to the campaign before the build-up to Germany 2024 begins in earnest.
Clement will be under pressure quickly at Rangers if they don’t reach Viaplay Cup showpiece
During the hiatus from domestic football, the big news coming out of the Premiership was the appointment by Rangers of Philippe Clement as their new manager.
The Belgian has a fine pedigree, is a multiple winner, and spoke well during his first media outing. He seems to have researched the Scottish game, and was realistic about the challenge ahead.
🎙️ Philippe Clement insists he is hungry to deliver regular silverware at Rangers as he spelled out his footballing vision at Ibrox.
Read More from Philippe ⤵️
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) October 18, 2023
Much of what he said was standard fare, but it would have chimed with the support, and we will get an early indication on Saturday against Hibernian of what kind of football he wants to play.
It will be a tough start with a trip to Prague and a double-header against Hearts on the horizon. The second of those encounters with the Tynecastle outfit, the Viaplay Cup semi-final, will be the most important of all.
Rangers are odds-on favourites to win the tournament. If he fails to book a return visit to the national stadium for December’s final, Clement will already be up against it.