The prospects of qualification for a major finals is so precious for Scotland that they will cling to the possibility until the last moment.
With two games remaining, in Liechtenstein tonight and in Spain on Tuesday – on the face of it, a certain three points and a certain "nul points" – those chances are slim and a record of having failed to qualify for every championship since 1998 will be extended for at least another two years.
Failure to triumph in Vaduz is unthinkable, even by the often perverse standards of Scottish football – a shuddering recent example being the 97th-minute winner required to beat tonight's hosts at Hampden Park last year – and would mean that last moment arriving abruptly.
Craig Levein has delayed naming his side – he is in the habit of doing it the day before the game – after Darren Fletcher's late arrival following a quicker than expected recovery from a bout of tonsillitis. Fletcher trained on his own yesterday and Levein also has the fitness of Kenny Miller, who will captain the side should Fletcher be absent, to consider. The Cardiff striker is the more likely to feature tonight, with Fletcher given more time to ready himself for Tuesday's visit to Alicante, where the Manchester United midfielder's experience will be vital.
Levein said: "I have to wait to see him and assess him but if the medical team gives him the thumbs-up he will play; if not, he is 100 per cent certain to be involved on Tuesday." On Miller, the Scotland manager said: "I won't take any silly risks. It doesn't do me, Kenny or the club any good. But I am hopeful with Kenny because there has been a big improvement this week."
If Scotland do lose out in their tussle with the Czech Republic for the runners-up spot behind Spain, it will be an earlier selection decision involving Miller that may come to haunt Levein. When Scotland travelled to Prague in the opening stages of the campaign, the former Hearts and Dundee United manager left out Miller and sent out an XI that lined up 4-6-0. There was no coming back from Roman Hubnik's second-half goal for a side designed with a crippling lack of ambition.
Levein has since seen his side score twice against Spain and the Czechs, albeit with the return of just one point, to demonstrate they do have an attacking threat which will have to be on display tonight. The Czechs themselves only scored twice in Vaduz and Gary Caldwell, the Wigan defender, pointed out yesterday that Liechtenstein have improved. They are, though, still ranked 118th in the world. "We know that we should beat Liechtenstein," accepted Caldwell.
Levein insists the focus is all on Rheinpark stadium in Vaduz and not on Tuesday when they play the world champions in Alicante, at the home of Hercules, a name that neatly sums up Scotland's task. Levein said: "If we don't get ourselves in a good position tomorrow then Tuesday doesn't matter."
Gary Caldwell admits the shock return of Fletcher to the squad is a "massive boost" to their qualifying hopes. "Darren is our captain, our leader and obviously a massive player for Manchester United and us," Caldwell said. "For the whole week we counted him out and didn't think he was going to be available so to have him is going to be a big boost.
"Also, Kenny [Miller] is training this morning and having him would be massive as well. They both have over 50 caps and they will bring an experience to the team with regards what you have to do to win in these games, so it is important to have these guys available."
Caldwell is looking for the Scots to take the initiative from the first whistle in Vaduz although he believes patience will be key against a side who only lost at Hampden in September last year to a late header from Stephen McManus.
"We have had a good week," said the former Celtic defender. "We have done a lot of training and the boys look ready. It is a big challenge, the game against Liechtenstein can be difficult. They showed in the game at Hampden that they are not a bad side and we are going to have to be ready for them.
"You have to start with a real tempo, a real desire to go and win the game and put them under pressure as much as you can. You might not score in that period but you have to start on the front foot and put them under pressure from the start. I think they will be a hard-working team."
Caldwell added: "They are very difficult to break down because they set up in a 4-5-1 formation which is very organised. It is going to be a night when we are going to have to pass the ball very quickly. We will also have to be patient. Whether it is the first minute or the last minute, we are going to have to keep doing the right things to try to get that goal and win the match."
The Scotland Under-21 head coach, Billy Stark, praised his players for breaking down a stubborn Luxembourg team and then taking full advantage of their lead in a 5-1 victory on Thursday.
Scotland struggled to turn their possession into chances in the opening quarter but they gradually turned the screw and Alex MacDonald's 29th-minute long-range strike opened the floodgates in the Under-21 European Championship qualifier.
Huddersfield striker Jordan Rhodes scored a hat-trick in the space of 30 minutes and Paul Hanlon headed a late fifth soon after the hosts had claimed a consolation. Scotland next face Austria in Paisley on Monday.Reuse content