This summer will mark the 10th anniversary of Scotland's most recent appearance at a major tournament: a damning and deeply depressing statistic for a nation that, between 1974 and 1990, reached five successive FIFA World Cup™ finals.
Nevetheless, passions that reached a low ebb during the disastrous reign of Berti Vogts were reignited under Walter Smith and then Alex McLeish, whose combined efforts saw the Scots spend of their UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying campaign leading from the front in a remarkably tough group featuring Italy, France and Ukraine.
Some final-day, last-minute heartbreak saw their bid to split the FIFA World Cup finalists end in typically heroic failure, but the team's efforts were still saluted by a boisterous Hampden crowd, not to mention an entire nation who queued outside pubs for a chance to watch the action, sinking over five million pints of beer in the space just one afternoon! Now, following McLeish's departure, the Scots are attempting to maintain this momentum with a new man at the helm in the shape George Burley.
The former Southampton, Hearts and Ipswich Town boss was the rank outsider when a four-man shortlist comprised by Graeme Souness, Tommy Burns and Mark McGhee was identified, but so impressed were the SFA with Burley's vision during the interview process that the underdog ultimately emerged triumphant. It might not have been a universally popular move, but even Burley's harshest critics were impressed by the enthusiasm of the 51-year-old, who spoke at his first press conference of "tingling with excitement" at the thought of taking charge of the team for whom he earned 11 caps as a player.
The new Scotland boss was also unequivocal on his key objective:
leading the Tartan Army all the way the 2010 FIFA World Cup South
Africa. The Scots have been drawn in Group 9 alongside the
Netherlands, Norway, FYR Macedonia and Iceland. Burley has seen
Scotland soar to 14th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and,
while acknowledging that the Dutch will start as favourites, he
believes a place at the 2010 showpiece is within his team's
"The belief is there," he said. "I am up for the challenge. Let's go for it, give it our best shot. There are some very good teams in the group but I think we will all be ready for it. We have a passion for the game and if you have a passion and a hunger for the game you always have a chance. I believe we can qualify. Holland are the favourites but it's certainly possible given the form the team has shown."
The question now is: do you agree with the new Scotland boss? And do you think the SFA have appointed the right man to take them to South Africa? Can James McFadden, Barry Ferguson, Scott Brown et al really top a section that includes the Dutch, a resurgent Norway side and a Macedonian outfit that caused England so many problems?
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