Why Nations League fixtures are crucial for Scotland’s morale ahead of another World Cup watched from home
Steve Clarke’s side take on Ukraine and Republic of Ireland with a chance to top their group, ahead of a lengthy six month break
The UEFA Nations League is seldom seen as a competition of high priority to most national sides, especially the ones who take regular major tournament qualification for granted.
However, Scotland’s next three matches are of huge significance for the Tartan Army who are once again set to watch a World Cup finals from home, with nobody to cheer for except whoever they might have backed in the bookies - or whichever nation happens to be playing England.
This triple header where Steve Clarke’s side face Ukraine twice and the Republic of Ireland will be the last time Scotland supporters get to see their team in action for six months, until qualifying for UEFA Euro 2024 begins.
That half a year could either be another extended period of low morale or could be one of renewed optimism mixed with eternal hope, and that depends entirely on how these Nations League matches go.
Despite a humbling at the hands of the Irish in Dublin, the Scots still have their group fate in their own hands and have a real chance of topping it - this would not only guarantee them a play-off for the European Championships, but also propel them into League A alongside the heavyweights of European football for the next Nations League campaign.
It’s a morale boost that football fans in Scotland need after losing their World Cup play-off semi-final to Ukraine in such disappointing fashion back in June and, as ever, there is no reason for the Scottish supporters not to be optimistic.
Ukraine’s win at Hampden saw their players put in an inspired performance and it looked as if they would comfortably top this Nations League group after wins over Ireland and Armenia.
However, a 1-1 draw with Ireland in their final game gave Scotland a real shot in the arm as it meant they still had the opportunity to top the group completely in their own hands despite their own 3-0 humiliation in Dublin.
So much will come down to the first game in Glasgow on Wednesday night but it’s all quite simple really: seven points from their three matches would guarantee they top the group.
They might not even need that if Armenia can do them a favour against Ukraine in between their two meetings, but they will hope they don’t need to rely on that in an ideal world.
Then of course, let’s not completely rule out the Republic of Ireland who could see Scotland facing Ukraine twice as a real opportunity for them to unexpectedly claim top spot.
It’s highly unlikely but not impossible, if they win their final two matches they would finish on ten points, and if Armenia could beat Ukraine and the Scots either draw both or draw one and win one, then it would be the Irish topping the group.
What that means is that Stephen Kenny’s side are still very much in the fight and will be expected to approach the last two games with that in mind.
Beating Armenia in their first match will relegate the former Soviet republic to the third tier of the Nations League and ensure Ireland’s own survival, and following that up with a second win over the Scots gives them a shot at greater expectations.
It’s certainly not going to be easy, nothing ever is where Scotland are concerned, but it’s on Steve Clarke and his players to give the nation a much needed lift going into another armchair World Cup.