Scotland are now just two games from glory. Two victories over these next few days and we can look forward to playing in a World Cup once again.
It would be the first time in a generation that we’ve seen our boys competing on the global stage. One final push and I firmly believe we can do it.
We had a taste of being back among the big boys when we reached the Euros last summer. That was brilliant in the way it brought the country together after a really tough period with the pandemic.
Scotland captain Andy Robertson (above) has enjoyed an outstanding season at Liverpool
It made such a nice change to actually be there and be involved. Previously at major finals, it was just a case of supporting whichever team you picked out the hat in the office sweepstake.
That became the norm for far too long until we finally managed to buck the trend and qualify for the Euros. It was all the better that some of the games were at Hampden.
But going to a World Cup would be a different level altogether. Fans would flock from all over. From Cumbernauld, Cambuslang and Kirkcaldy, they’d all be heading to Qatar.
We’ve waited well over 20 years for a moment like this since France ’98 — and I honestly believe we couldn’t ask for a better chance of reaching a World Cup.
Look at some of our previous play-offs. We lost to England in a bid to reach Euro 2000 and then Holland in a bid to reach Euro 2004.
Steve Clarke admits Scotland are ‘desperate’ to beat Ukraine and qualify for the World Cup
Those are two teams you would class among the heavyweights of European football. We were always going to be up against it.
But that’s not what we’re dealing with here. We are trying to navigate our way through two games with Ukraine and Wales.
These are two teams on a similar level to ourselves. In fact, if you remove Gareth Bale from the equation, I actually think Scotland have the better players of all three teams.
These are two eminently beatable opponents. It’s time for Scotland to deliver and fulfil the potential they have shown under Steve Clarke and continue their progress together.
The game against Ukraine tonight will be extremely difficult for reasons that extend beyond football. It’s such a unique and tragic situation around the match.
In the eyes of the rest of the world, Scotland will be the bad guys. Every neutral will want Ukraine to win given the horrendous situation which has unfolded in their homeland over the past few months.
The Celtic players such as Callum McGregor will be buzzing after winning a league title
But, difficult though it may be, Scotland have to rise above the emotion of it all. They have to be really cold and calculated and just focus on doing their job.
When you’re facing a team who have such a weight of support behind them due to tragedy, it must be difficult to disengage from the emotional side of it. But that’s what Scotland have to do.
It’s hard to find anything to compare with the groundswell of support for Ukraine. Maybe Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016.
Every neutral wanted them to win because it was such a brilliant story. The situation with Ukraine goes way beyond football. They have the support of the world behind them. But if Scotland play to their maximum capabilities, I expect they will win the game to then tee up a decider in Cardiff on Sunday.
I look through the squad and I see players who should be brimming with confidence after enjoying excellent seasons at club level.
It starts with our skipper Andy Robertson. I know he will be gutted about losing the Champions League final in Paris on Saturday night.
But you still have to acknowledge what an outstanding season Liverpool had. They effectively came within two games of winning the Quadruple.
Scotland take on Ukraine on Wednesday night for the right to face Wales in the play-off final
It has been a magnificent effort and Robertson has been back to his very best this season with the way he rampages down the left wing.
I also look at Callum McGregor and some of the other Celtic boys. They will be buzzing after winning a league title and playing some brilliant football.
You’ve then got Craig Gordon who has just been voted Player of the Year by the Scottish Football Writers. He’s been in the form of his life and just keeps getting better with age.
Ryan Christie has just won promotion to the Premier League with Bournemouth, as has Scott McKenna with Nottingham Forest.
I actually think McKenna could be the man to replace Kieran Tierney. It’s not quite a like-for-like replacement. Tierney has been outstanding for Scotland in recent times and will be a big loss.
But I believe McKenna could certainly do a job. He’s been excellent for Forest and knows the system under Steve Clarke since he’s been playing on the left of a back three for Forest.
John McGinn has cemented his reputation as one of the best central midfielders in the Premier League after another brilliant season with Aston Villa.
Ukraine have played friendlies to prepare, after Russia launched an invasion of their country
The only players who you look at and think they are maybe short of form would be Billy Gilmour and Scott McTominay.
Gilmour has basically been wasted at Norwich this season during a nightmare loan spell, while McTominay has been part of a Manchester United side who toiled for much of the campaign.
But I firmly believe they are both good enough players to put that behind them and produce the goods for Scotland. Particularly with Gilmour, we need his composure on the ball.
He has formed such a good partnership in midfield with McGregor and they link up well with McGinn, who is given the freedom to get further forward and go beyond the strikers.
It’s going to be a massive night at Hampden. The place was absolutely rocking for the victories over Israel and Denmark at the back end of last year.
It will be off the charts tonight if we can get the job done. I expect it could be a bit tense and nervy at times, as is so often the case with Scotland.
But with the quality we now have in this squad, we’ve got to get on the front foot and play the game on our terms.
Chances like this don’t come around too often. The door to a World Cup finals has been opened. It’s time for Scotland to step up and walk through it.