Okay, technically we were called European Play-Off – lumped together with Ukraine and Wales – so the saltire did not appear on the jazzy screens at Friday’s draw ceremony, but we were there.
As a 36-year-old, I can remember watching Scotland at France 98 but I don’t think draws were televised back then, or certainly not to as much fanfare. As a nation starved of being on the biggest global stage for too long, moments like this feel momentuous.
I see many in England already think they have won the World Cup after being handed a group containing the Islamic Republic of Iran (it’s Sunday so I’m giving them their Sunday name), the United States of America and one of Wales, Ukraine or Scotland. No sooner had the balls stopped spinning, I was watching our southern chums on Twitter get all excited. Routes to the end are already being plotted. They view this group as easy meat. Senegal in the last 16, Argentina in the semi-finals (God, can you imagine the tabloids).
I’ll use the old cliche that there are no easy games in the World Cup, but I’m going to admit that as the draw unfolded, Group B was staring me in the face: that’s the one I want! We drew with England at Wembley so surely we shouldn’t fear them in the desert, the US are most definitely not the force of old and the Iranians – well, okay, we have history with them – but Iraj Danaeifard is now 67 and long retired. The ghosts of 1978 have to be put to rest some day.
Because of the “constraints” of the draw, teams from certain federations not being allowed to face each other in the groups, it became apparent reasonably early that there was a high chance of being put in Group B. I’d much rather have this one than playing Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea (sorry, Korea Republic, as it’s Sunday), as was our other option in Group H. Cristiano Ronaldo, Luiz Suarez and Son Heung-min, or Harry Kane, Sardar Azmoun or Christian Pulisic? no brainer
This is about as delectable a World Cup group as one could wish for, so I’ll forgive England – who are actually a very, very good football team and deservedly one of the favorites to win this under the likeable Gareth Southgate – for being so optimistic. I’m already concerned that my holiday in December will need to be canceled so that I can work on Scotland against Netherlands in the last 16. Okay, I jest …
Who knows if the tie against Ukraine will ever be played. One really, really hopes so. Home advantage at an emotional Hampden will help, but that is a very difficult assignment Beat the Ukrainians and it’s Wales in Cardiff. What a huge event that would be. We think we’ve had it bad but there’s a generation of Welsh fans who have not experienced their nation being at a World Cup. My colleague Andrew Smith took in their play-off game against Austria and reported back that not many of their team would get into ours, but the one man who definitely would be an absolute superstar. Gareth Bale concerns me, the ogre ready to turn Scottish dreams into nightmares.
And then there’s the fact that this is being held in Qatar, with the controversy about how this tiny middle-eastern nation came to be the 2022 host, its human rights record and the deaths associated with constructing the stadia. Moments like Friday’s draw, rightly or wrongly, take you away from what has gone on, and what is going on. Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s president, said this World Cup could be a unifier in the face of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, and while he is quite right when discussing the war, what is going on in Qatar’s neck of the woods is far from palatable either.
So getting excited about November and December comes with a caveat, given all of the above, but I can’t help myself. This current Scotland team is a good one, steadily improving under the wily Steve Clarke, and are playing with togetherness and confidence. There is a reasonable chance that they can do it. Take the blue-tinted spectacles off and if you were neutral, you wouldn’t be put off backing Scotland. Ukraine and Wales are good teams too, but they are not scary.
If – and it’s a big if – Scotland qualify, we will be involved on opening day, against the Americans in Al Rayyan on Monday, November 21 (kick-off time would be 7pm our time, of course I’ve checked). Back in 1998, the last time we graced the world’s stage, it was Brazil, in Paris, on opening night. I’ll cling on to that small omen. We’ve had a taste of being part of this World Cup, even if it’s just in spirit. Now I really, really want you to be there in person.
World Cup draw: Scotland to face England in Qatar 2022 group stages – if they qu…
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