Scotland should look back at their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a great sense of pride at what they managed to achieve, with the progression under Gordon Strachan boding well for the future of the national team. While narrowly missing out on qualification has provided no crumb of comfort for the Tartan Army who began to believe that they would be returning to France eighteen years after Scotland last appeared at a major international tournament, coming so close should be valued as an achievement in itself. Betway always valued Scotland as outsiders on their sports betting market to qualify from a group which included the likes of Germany, Poland and Ireland, but there was an evident spirit and belief within the camp from the start that they could prove people wrong. It was this that not only got Strachan and his team so close to qualifying, but also provides solid foundations that can be built upon in future campaigns.
UEFA’s decision to extend the European Championship from sixteen to twenty-four teams provided Scotland with the perfect incentive to end their long-awaited wait to participate at a major tournament. It was arguably this change that created an injection of belief that the team could compete for a top three finish and therefore either qualify automatically for Euro 2016 or reach the play-offs against one of the other third-placed teams. Pushing World Cup winners Germany all the way both home and away, along with respectable 2-2 draws against Poland, illustrates just how well Scotland performed on the big stage, but unfortunately it came down to one costly slip-up. Everyone connected with the Scotland national team will undoubtedly look back at the defeat in Georgia as the key turning point in the group; holding Ireland to a 1-1 draw in Dublin put the Tartan Army in a wonderful position to finish third or even potentially second, but losing in Tbilisi and again three days later at Hampden Park against Germany allowed Ireland to take full advantage and regain the play-off spot which they claimed with one game to spare.
It should not take away from the overall campaign which Scotland enjoyed, with the rollercoaster of emotions creating belief across the country that the national team is heading in the right direction under Strachan. He has given opportunities to the likes of Andrew Robertson, James Forrest and Matt Ritchie, with the latter enjoying a good spell of form with newly-promoted Bournemouth. Victories against Chelsea and Manchester United have seen their odds of relegation with Betway at 11/4, but with their chances of finishing the highest of the three promoted teams at 7/2, will they deliver at these odds? Time will tell as to whether Ritchie can establish himself as a proven international player, but his progression into the Scotland team proves that the door is open to anyone in the SPL or of Scottish origin who shows enough quality, belief and determination to represent the Tartan Army.
Watching Euro 2016 from home may not provide comfortable viewing after coming so close to being a part of the tournament (unless England struggle, of course), but Scotland’s progress and excellent showings against two of the strongest teams on the international stage could signal the beginning of a new dawn. It may not only enough more young people across the country to take up football in order to follow in the footsteps of their heroes, but also encourage the SPL to focus their efforts on ensuring future generations of talented players come through academies across Scotland. Finances will ultimately dictate how successful the model is if the SFA decide to go down this route, and while others would suggest that funding is required for better facilities and coaching standards, the benefits would speak for themselves. Producing talent across all four professional leagues in Scotland and beyond would not only improve the standards of Scottish football, but also provide Strachan with more options in the future that could make the Tartan Army proud and be the men who lead on from our Euro 2016 campaign that brought more pride than pain.