It might be close to a decade since Scotland was last represented at a FIFA World Cup of any description, but when the nation's U-20 players end that miserable sequence in Canada this summer, they will not have far to look for advice on excelling on the global stage.

After all, in the Scots' dugout will be one Archie Gemmill, architect of his country's most-celebrated FIFA World Cup moment: a darting, jinking run through the Dutch defence at Argentina 1978 that ended with one of the tournament's great goals. Scotland's U-20 team manager could have spent the 29 years since dining out on the mere memory, but in fact he has long since grown weary of being continually reminded of it, and prefers instead to focus on the future - namely, that of his players.

Those players surpassed all expectations by marching past the likes of France, Portugal and the Czech Republic en route to the final of the UEFA European U-19 Championship last summer, winning the hearts of their Polish hosts along the way and a heroes' welcome on their return. Now the challenge is to achieve what all of their senior predecessors - including Gemmill's class of 78 - found elusive by progressing beyond the group stage at a FIFA World Cup.

Yet as Gemmill told in an exclusive interview, he does not believe that his team's ambitions need be limited to escaping from an intriguing section that sees them pitted against Nigeria, Japan and Costa Rica .

"Our target is to qualify from the group stage," he said. "That's the only thing we're looking at right now, and that would be an achievement in itself. But once you're in the knock-out stages, anything can happen. I certainly wouldn't like to set any limits on what we can achieve because we could be the luckiest team there's ever been and go further than anyone expects. As long as the boys apply themselves like they did in Poland, I'll have absolutely no complaints."

Great expectations
Their exploits at continental level may have left Gemmill justifiably confident in his side's ability to compete with the best, but he is quick to dismiss the suggestion that Scotland 'got lucky' by avoiding the principal pre-tournament favourites in the Final Draw. In fact, he is firmly of the opinion that the Scots will need to reach for new heights if they are to hold their own against two FIFA U-20 World Cup veterans and the previous edition's runners-up.

He said: "I suppose like everything, (the draw) could have been a lot worse, and part of that was because we earned the right to be seeded. But when you look at the teams that are in there, it is by no means easy.

"It says a lot for the expectations that have built up around this team that people in Scotland now expect us to qualify ahead of the likes of Nigeria and Japan . But we know ourselves that it's going to be very, very difficult.

"The Japanese are well established as a strong football nation and I know that youth development is something they've been working very hard on. Some of their players are already well established in the J.League and they'll be exceptionally tough.

"Nigeria obviously made it to the final last time, so they have fantastic pedigree at this level. I know the squad will be different, but we expect them to be just as strong. Costa Rica will be the same. I know they might not have the same reputation as the others, but they have kept the same group of players together now for three years and will know each other's game inside-out.

"It's going to be very difficult, but for me this is what a World Cup is all about. We're coming up against top-class teams from three different continents and it will be a magnificent experience for our lads. This will be another step up from the Euros and the boys will need to rise to the occasion. After all, it might never come for them again."

Energy, heart… and goals
Satisfied rather than thrilled with the teams Scotland were drawn alongside, Gemmill was able to give a considerably more wholehearted thumbs-up to the location for his side's three group matches, all of which are to be staged in British Columbia. And it's no wonder he's pleased.

After all, not only does the picturesque region boast a large contingent of Scottish expatriates, but as fate would have it, a preparatory tour was organised for Gemmill's side in December of last year that included two matches in Victoria and Burnaby - precisely the venues at which Scotland's group games are to be played.

"We're delighted in that respect," said Gemmill. "I think there would have been plenty of expats wherever we went in Canada but I know there's a decent community of them in the Vancouver and Victoria area, so I'm sure we can expect a good support. We were actually invited months ago to play a couple of matches against Canada in British Columbia, so that will now be a very useful trip in terms of getting to know the surroundings. We head over there next Tuesday and we'll be using the opportunity to look at a few lads who weren't involved with us in the Euros."

For local fans, these matches might also offer some pointers on what to expect from the Scots this summer, and on this point their coach was keen to dispel any stereotypical images the natives might have of his side's likely approach.

"I'm sure the Canadian fans will take to us," said Gemmill. "We're a side that plays with a lot of energy and heart, but we can also pass the ball - and we'll get goals. More than anything, we're a proper team. Some of our players might be a little bit better-known than others, but there are no stars in our squad. All of them get along really well and they'll all work until they drop for each other. That should stand us in pretty good stead."