"Whatever could have gone wrong went wrong." George Burley was referring to just one match when he uttered these words, but he might as well have been reflecting on Scotland's year.

For Burley and his struggling side, the first eight months of 2009 have been littered with mishaps, misfortune and misery both on and off the field. The result is that their FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign currently teeters on the brink of failure.

For the Scots, the challenge facing them is simple. A crushing 4-0 defeat in Norway has left them needing all six points from their remaining matches against FYR Macedonia and the Netherlands to even stand a chance of making the play-offs. Anything less and they will be watching from home once again. Ordinarily, it would be of some encouragement that these key matches will both be staged at Hampden Park, the historical Glasgow arena in which the likes of France and the Dutch themselves have been humbled in recent years. Yet optimism remains thin on the ground.

Indeed, the knives are already out for Burley, whose attempts to remould Scotland into a more adventurous, eye-catching side have yielded little in the way of results. Two wins from six qualifiers is a statistic that tells its own story, and Burley has come under fire for initially overlooking the prolific Kris Boyd, who has refused to play for him since, and latterly for benching the nation's talismanic match-winner, James McFadden.

My future doesn't matter; it's about Scotland. Will I keep my job? Who knows. Managers come and go.

George Burley

He has also proved abnormally unlucky. Injuries to key players are perhaps to be expected, but for Burley they have been exacerbated by inexplicable errors, such as Chris Iwelumo's amazing miss in the 0-0 home draw with Norway and Gary Caldwell's needless first-half dismissal in Oslo, at a point when the Scots looked to be in control.

Then, or course, there was the notorious 'Boozegate' affair, which ended with lifetime bans for captain Barry Ferguson and goalkeeper Allan McGregor after the Rangers duo followed up an all-night drinking session while on international duty by aiming offensive gestures at photographers. Burley, whatever his critics may say, has not had his troubles to seek.

However, while odds of 1/8 on the Netherlands match proving to be his last are reflective of the national mood, the Scotland manager seems relaxed about his position. "My future doesn't matter; it's about Scotland," he said last week. "Will I keep my job? Who knows. Managers come and go."

Burley's remark about the frequency of managerial changes is indisputable. Of more concern to many Scotland fans is the suspicion that the team's principal strength - its spirit and unity - has been irrevocably damaged by Burley's disputes with Boyd, Ferguson and McGregor. However, Stephen McManus, who is due to make a welcome return from injury after missing the defeat to Norway, told FIFA.com that nothing could be further from the truth.

"For anyone to say that we're not as unified anymore is incredibly unfair," said the Celtic captain, who had been Ferguson's deputy as national skipper. "That togetherness has been vital for us for as long as I've been in the squad and for people to assume that's changed because of what happened isn't right at all. The players are always behind each other, and behind the manager. That's what being in a team is all about; you defend each other through thick and thin."

The thought of a full house at Hampden for Macedonia is all the incentive we need. It's all still to play for.

James McFadden

In the absence of McManus, who is gearing up for a comeback after four months on the treatment table, it was Darren Fletcher who took the captain's armband in Oslo. The Manchester United midfielder has struggled to replicate his outstanding club form in the international arena over the past year, but he was quick to absolve Burley of any blame for his indifferent performances and insists the manager has the support of the entire squad.

"He is a likeable manager and one I enjoy playing for," said Fletcher. "With a bit of luck, he can take us to the play-offs, and who knows? He might be the manager who takes us to the World Cup. I'd love that for him, the team and the country."

Fletcher is not alone. It is now over 11 years since Scotland last competed in a major championship, and save for 39-year-old David Weir, the current squad have only distant childhood memories of previous FIFA World Cup adventures. As James McFadden said: "I still remember being a kid watching Scotland play at World Cups. The results might not always have been great but the whole country was buzzing. That's what I want to experience as a player."

The prospect may seem as distant as ever, but if Scotland enjoy the rub of the green and can avoid reaching for the self-destruct button in this forthcoming double-header, a ticket to South Africa might yet come within their reach. "The thought of a full house at Hampden for Macedonia is all the incentive we need," said McFadden. "It's all still to play for. If we win our next two games, no-one else can finish in second place. This World Cup isn't out of our reach yet."