“No Scotland, no party” – it is Qatar’s loss. Scotland fans will keep telling themselves that and take comfort from the fact that Steve Clarke’s planning for Euro 2024 is well underway.
Another World Cup with an absence of the Tartan Army “coming down the road” may sting over the coming month, but it does give ample time for consideration over which players can elevate Scotland back to major tournaments.
Germany 2024 is the goal, with the qualification route starting in March. That question, who will be key on the pitch by then, is less than straightforward.
Squad evolving but key questions to be resolved
The strength of Scotland’s starting line-up in Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat in Turkey was striking.
The exercise was designed to experience a tough examination in a hostile environment. Box ticked. They got that and then some in the unfriendliest of friendlies.
For an hour of the contest, Turkey were rampant. At one stage, home fans seemed to be laughing at how easy they were having it as they harangued and harassed Scotland’s troops.
At that stage, it seemed an error of judgement to take this fixture on in the last match before the European qualification campaign starts next March.
Scotland were wilting, but they demonstrated a high level of resilience and finished strongly, thanks again to the inspirational impact of John McGinn, who netted his 15th international goal.
But what lies in store for the midfielder over the next few months and what impact might that have on Clarke’s plans?
Since the appointment of Unai Emery as Steven Gerrard’s replacement at Aston Villa, McGinn’s status has taken a dent. He has played fewer minutes. Over the next few months that might be problematic for Scotland if that trend continues.
And it is not an issue unique to McGinn.
Minutes on the pitch an increasing concern
There’s no doubt this Scotland squad is evolving nicely with a number of options in most areas and an increasingly desirable balance of experience and youth.
But there are concerns. Billy Gilmour has hardly kicked a ball since moving from Chelsea to Brighton & Hove Albion, a step that was expected to kick on his career.
He struggled in Diyarbakir, a shadow of the performer who delivered a player of the match Wembley performance against England at Euro 2020.
Fellow midfielder Scott McTominay, a mainstay for Scotland and Manchester United of late, has suddenly found his club manager, Erik Ten Haag, looking elsewhere.
In defence, Kieran Tierney is now finding starts hard to come by at an Arsenal side who top the Premier League, while Jack Hendry has not been a regular starter on loan to Cremonese.
It’s all very well having players at that elite level. Clarke needs them to play, week in and week out. Or at least most of those weeks.
There is a worrying tend of experienced Scots increasingly starting to warm benches that may undermine Scotland’s route to Germany 2024.
Youth offers considerable hope
There are really promising players emerging. Calvin Ramsay impressed making his international debut after coming on at half time. He seems unfazed by anything – something his captain and club mate Andy Robertson alluded to this week.
At right-back, suddenly there are numerous options. Youthful ones at that and this must excite the Scotland manager.
Aaron Hickey’s rise from Hearts to Bologna, and now Brentford, has been astounding. Nathan Patterson has found his feet at Everton. Anthony Ralston has been reborn under Ange Postecoglou at Celtic and delivering when called at international level.
Now Ramsay, after overcoming injury, has made Liverpool and Scotland debuts within a month; it’s an incredible roster of potential and genuine talent.
Ramsay will surely develop in the Anfield environment with Robertson as mentor. But, let’s face it, is he likely to oust Trent Alexander-Arnold in the Liverpool starting line-up anytime soon?
Scotland don’t want to find Ramsay in Gilmour’s predicament. Or Tierney’s, or McTominay’s.
This seems the nub of the issue for Scotland as they look to build on a gradual evolution they hope leads to Germany 2024, World Cup 2026 and the next tournament after that.
Potential goalkeeping weak spot seems glaring
Craig Gordon continues to defy the odds. The elixir of youth seems to course through the Hearts goalkeeper’s veins. The model professional who has overcome significant adversity to remain vital in a Scotland shirt.
What, though, is the Plan B if, for any reason, Gordon isn’t available?
Many anticipated a first cap for Liam Kelly or Robbie McCrorie, even off the bench, against Turkey. That didn’t happen, perhaps because of what unfolded in an intense atmosphere, but there are limited options.
Jon McLaughlin’s reign as Rangers’ main man did not last long. The other recent hope, Zander Clark, has switched from St Johnstone mainstay to Gordon back-up at Tynecastle.
It seems Scotland are all in with the veteran custodian. For such a key position, it seems a fine line to walk ahead of the next qualification campaign.