Why Scotland should reach Euro 2012

It was the 10th of June 1998; I was 13 years old and sprinting home from school as fast as my wee legs could carry me. Scotland were playing World Cup holders Brazil in France 98's curtain-raiser in Paris.

After going a goal down within the opening five minutes an unceremonious tanking seemed imminent. However the Brazilian onslaught never materialised and in the 37th minute John Collins was coolness personified as he neatly tucked away a penalty to restore parity.

I was ecstatic and, holding a massive saltire aloft, ran up and down the length of my street to the bemusement and cheers from a few of my neighbours.

That feeling of euphoria was short-lived. Scotland went on to lose 2-1 in what is now an all too familiar tale of glorious failure. A draw with Norway and a disastrous 3-0 defeat to Morocco ensured our traditional early exit.

Little did I know this failed foray at the World Cup in France almost 12 years ago would be the last time I would see my country in a major international tournament.

The summer of 98 may not feel that long ago for some people but it is far too long for the average Tartan Army member.

The major tournaments lose a certain degree of excitement when your country isn't there competing against the best in the world; just ask us Scots how we feel this summer when we watch on with envy as our neighbours south of the border take on the United States in South Africa on June 12.

Does Sunday's Euro 2012 draw give the Scots any chance of ending this dismal qualification run by reaching Poland and Ukraine in two years' time?

New national coach Craig Levein was in Warsaw to see the Scots drawn in Group I along with holders Spain, Czech Republic, Lithuania and Liechtenstein.

At first glance this group looks far from facile but the Tartan Army should not be overly alarmed by the presence of Spain as this is a reasonably favourable draw.

Providing the formidable Spanish steamroller everyone in the group as expected, the battle for second place should be between the Scots and a Czech side that's not quite as superior as it once was.

They may have beaten Scotland on both occasions in their two most recent meetings back in 1999 but the Czechs failed to reach the play-off stages for the 2010 World Cup after finishing behind Slovakia and Slovenia in a very poor qualifying campaign.

If Scotland can take maximum points from minnows Liechtenstein, the lowest-ranked of the pot five teams, and maintain our 100 percent record over Lithuania then it should be a head-to-head battle between us and the Czechs for second place.

But nothing is ever quite that simple for Scotland.

It's far more probable that the Scots will achieve a battling, backs-against-the-wall 1-0 win over Spain before a shameful defeat to lowly Liechtenstein four days later. That's how we roll.

But if we can overcome our troubles against the smaller nations in Europe and continue to fight tooth and nail against the more glamorous countries, Scotland will have a decent chance of qualifying for Euro 2012.

Levein will meet the other four nations in Spain to decide upon possible dates for the qualifiers and he will hopefully have learnt from the mistakes made by his predecessor George Burley.

This time Scotland must avoid playing crucial away qualifiers in the scorching summer sun before our season has even begun.

Levein would be wise to start with a couple of matches against the supposed easier teams when the qualifying campaign commences in September, to build up some points and momentum before taking on the big guns.

Scotland's pre-arranged friendly with the Czech Republic next month will now take on an added significance.

It will be Levein's first game in charge of the country and a useful insight into our Group I opponents.

The result in this fixture won't matter a jot come September when the Euro 2012 qualifiers officially get underway, but it will be our two group matches against the Czech Republic that will determine Scotland's possible progression.

If Scotland can get the better of the Czechs then they will give themselves a fantastic chance of reaching another major tournament.

And if they do, I'm sure I won't be the only person running around the streets waving a saltire.

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