A country of little over five million people, Scotland has often stood accused of being obsessed with its 'small nation' status. Nowhere, it is argued, does this obsession manifest itself more clearly than in football, where the country's fans have become considerably more adept at winning friends than its national team at progressing in international competitions.
If, however, U-20 captain Scott Cuthbert is typical of the new generation of Scottish footballers, the jovial, self-effacing acceptance of failure that has characterised the nation over recent years may be about to be replaced by a new expectant, demanding streak. Some may recall that the 19-year-old Celtic centre-half was an inspirational figure in the side that marched all the way to the final of the UEFA European U-19 Championship in Poland last summer, a remarkable feat achieved against all expectations - all, that is, save for those of Cuthbert and his colleagues.
It is clear, certainly, that when he reflects on that memorable campaign, Cuthbert does not consider that Scotland 'punched above their weight' in delivering knockout blows to the likes of France, Portugal and the Czech Republic, but merely that they began to fulfil the kind of potential which could, he believes, see them emerge as a similar surprise package at this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup .
"I've always felt this was a special team," he said, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com. "I think most people looking on expected us to be the whipping boys in Poland, even after we knocked out France, but every one of the lads knew that wouldn't be the case because we're well aware in ourselves what we're capable of. Personally, I was always sure we'd get through our group over there - there was absolutely no doubt in my mind.
"It has just happened with this team that a good group and blend of players has come together at the same time. Guys like Steven Fletcher and Calum Elliot (of Hibernian and Hearts respectively) would cause problems for anyone, but first and foremost we're a good team and a strong unit. Our workrate is unbelievable and, although sometimes you maybe take those kind of qualities for granted with Scottish teams, we are a side who never give up and fight right until the end. That's something that won us a lot of support over in Poland."
Indeed, while Cuthbert and Co ultimately failed in their gallant bid to deny Spain a fourth European crown in six years, it was the Scots' name that rang out at the end from a 10,000-strong Polish crowd who stayed on to applaud their efforts, with manager Archie Gemmill reflecting afterwards: "The boys have done their country proud… it feels like a victory."
Gemmill and Wilson reunited
The team's giant-killing exploits certainly caught the imagination of the Scottish public, and with a legion of Canadian ex-pats expected to be joined by a sizeable travelling Tartan Army this summer, Gemmill's side will certainly not want for support once they arrive on the other side of the Atlantic.
But what of the Scots' chances of avoiding a first-round exit, that dreaded fate which has befallen the country's senior team at each of their eight FIFA World Cup™ appearances to date? According to Cuthbert, the possibility has not even occurred.
"I know the boys will go to Canada with exactly the same kind of belief that we approached the Euros," he said. "I think we showed there, and by beating France in the qualifiers, that we can match anyone, and I still feel we were unlucky in the Final itself. The World Cup will be a new experience for us all and I've been watching a lot of Asian football recently, for example, to get an idea of what to expect against different cultures and styles of play. But regardless, we'll go over there looking to impress and, honestly, we see no reason to fear anyone at all."
Cuthbert's conviction that Scotland can once again cause an upset was only strengthened by the news that their management duo of Gemmill and Tommy Wilson will be reunited for the tournament, this despite a shake-up of the SFA's youth system under the now-departed Walter Smith . Wilson, in fact, preceded Smith in being lured away to Rangers, in his case to take up a post in charge of youth development, but the Ibrox club quickly acceded to a request that the highly-regarded coach be allowed to reprise his role alongside the charismatic Gemmill, much to Cuthbert's relief.
"Archie and Tommy have been brilliant and the boys will all be delighted that they're the ones who're taking us to Canada," said the Celtic defender. "The fact is, they had an awful lot to do with our success in Poland, as did the whole backroom team, so it's only right that they're given the chance to take us on to the World Cup itself.
"There was obviously a bit of talk that Archie and Tommy might not be in charge, particularly after Tommy went to Rangers, but I'm glad they will be because they know the boys inside-out and, as a partnership, I think they work really well together. Tommy is quieter of two but he's a very good coach and he's the one who takes all the training. As for Archie, he's quite a character and, of the two, he's the manager - the one who'll speak to us before to go out on the park to let us know what's expected. It's a good partnership and the two of them seem to complement each other well."
'Nothing short of incredible'
There can be no doubt that Cuthbert's admiration is reciprocated, with Gemmill in particular emphasising the esteem in which he holds the powerful centre-half. "If I was a club manager, he would be in my team," insisted the U-20 coach, himself a legendary former Scotland player. "He has been my captain for two years and been nothing short of incredible."
Yet, as Gemmill's initial comment hints at, Cuthbert has thus far struggled to break into the starting line-up at Celtic Park, where he has found his path to the first team blocked by the likes of Bobo Balde, Stephen McManus, Gary Caldwell and Steven Pressley: all full internationalists in their own right. As a result, and after groin problems denied him a breakthrough earlier in the season, he has gone out on loan to Livingston, with his hope that the senior experience gained at the ambitious first division outfit will ensure that he maintains a key role at the heart of Gemmill's side.
"I've not had as much first team football as some of the other Scotland lads, but that's just the nature of being at a huge club like Celtic," said the defender, who has impressed on his first few outings with Livingston. "No doubt I'd be playing a bit more regularly if I was at any other club in Scotland, but I want to be a success at Celtic and, to be fair to Archie and Tommy, they understand that. It was a massive honour that they saw fit to give me the captaincy - to lead out your country at any level is fantastic - and now I just need to develop my club career.
"It's been frustrating for me, I must admit. I was in and around the Celtic first team squad after coming back from the Euros but then I needed a double hernia operation just as the season was starting and that set me back for a few months. But all I can do is look forward to doing my best for Livingston and impressing while I'm here. Then, who knows what the future holds?"
If nothing else, the experience of what happened in Poland last summer has taught Cuthbert that no-one does.