Their South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign may be just three games old, but already Scotland find themselves with their backs against the wall. A trio of seemingly winnable matches has yielded just four points, and George Burley's side return to action next month in desperate need of some fresh impetus.
That, however, will be easier said than done given that their next fixture on 28 March is away to a Netherlands side five points better off after an unblemished start to their Group 9 campaign. Nor will anyone in the Scotland camp need reminding of how their last visit to Amsterdam ended, with a humiliating 6-0 defeat in 2003 still etched on the nation's memory.
As if the challenge wasn't daunting enough, Burley's task has been made doubly difficult by the injury-enforced absence of the talismanic James McFadden, a player who not so long ago rose to such an occasion in Paris. Kenny Miller remains a dependable and tireless toiler, but with Shaun Maloney injured, Steven Fletcher inexperienced and out of form, and Kris Boyd unwilling to play, Burley would appear to lack a forward with McFadden's unpredictable, match-winning ability.
Ross McCormack, a standout for Cardiff City this season, has been touted in some quarters as a potential replacement, but the emergence of new sensation closer to home seems to have given Burley even greater food for thought. The player in question may be just 17, but since breaking into the Rangers first team, John Fleck has wasted no time in justifying the considerable hype that has accompanied his development in the Glasgow giants' youth ranks.
I'm very excited about young John. I've spoken to Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, about him a couple of times and he thinks he is going to be a really top-class player,
A fleeting cameo in last year's Scottish Cup final, which made him the youngest player ever to feature in a British showpiece, offered a tantalising glimpse of the youngster's potential, and The Times newspaper named him at number seven in their 'Top 50 Rising Stars of European football' before he had even started a senior match. Plenty of youngsters just as highly-rated have gone on to disappoint, of course, but Fleck has more than lived up to his billing since earning a regular starting slot for the Ibrox club at the turn of the year. So vital has the teenager's poise, pace and invention been vital to the reviving of Rangers' title hopes, in fact, that Burley believes unleashing him on the Dutch may also serve to revitalise Scotland.
Asked if he would consider thrusting Fleck into this vital match, the Scotland manager said: "If he is performing well at Rangers, why not? I'm very excited about young John. I've spoken to Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, about him a couple of times and he thinks he is going to be a really top-class player. I've always said that if you're good enough, you're old enough. As a club manager I've never been reluctant to push exceptional youngsters through if I felt it was right, and I'm the same as the national manager."
Burley's principles may be laudable, but any call-up for Fleck would nonetheless be remarkable, not to mention historic. After all, not since Queen's Park's John Lambie pulled on the dark blue shirt in 1886 has a player of such tender years been called on to represent Scotland, and many believe the stakes are too high for such a gamble at this stage.
Barry Ferguson, the Rangers and Scotland captain, is among those wary of burdening Fleck with unrealistic expectations. "He's only broken into the Rangers team and people are putting far too much pressure on him," said the experienced midfielder. "It's up to George to say what he thinks but we should just let him play and get on with his football. He's only 17 and just out of school."
Yet even Ferguson admits that Fleck is the finest young talent of his generation, and plenty of those who know the youngster best believe he has the mentality and strength of character to handle even the most intimidating of occasions.
In terms of John's footballing ability, I don't think I've come across anyone as advanced mentally at his age,
Team-mate Steven Whittaker, for example, admits to being in awe of the teenager's capabilities. "It's scary to see how good he is," said Whittaker. "He's got talent in abundance, he works hard, he's shown that he's more than capable of playing on this stage and he has a great future ahead of him. He's only 17 but there's no reason why he can't get himself into the Scotland squad. You see it in England with the likes of [Wayne] Rooney that they're in the team even when they're still young lads because they're capable and he's no different."
Whittaker was not the first to mention Rooney in comparisons, and while Rangers' assistant-manager Ally McCoist has been quick to downplay any similarities, he does admit to being hugely excited by the youngster's prospects. He said: "In terms of John's footballing ability, I don't think I've come across anyone as advanced mentally at his age."
McCoist, of course, was himself a Scotland international of some repute, and the 61-times-capped former striker has been identified as the ideal mentor for Rangers' newest star. The 46-year-old also happens to be a former team-mate of the first Fleck to play for Scotland: John's uncle, Robert, who won four caps and a call-up to the 1990 FIFA World Cup.
Already, most observers are tipping Fleck Jnr to surpass this tally, and Robert certainly has no fears of his nephew buckling under the pressure should he be called upon to face the Dutch. He said: "John is a positive and confident person when he has a football jersey on and is doing what he loves best. Away from football he is a quiet boy - but he's a little devil when he gets on the pitch. Boys of his age feel no pressure, regardless of the club they play for or the size of the crowds."
Yet talk, of course, is cheap. With everyone having had their say and the player himself continuing to excel, the focus returns to Burley as he decides whether Fleck is indeed a gamble worth taking.