The widespread view in Scotland is that even if the national team fails to make Euro 2008, the qualifying campaign can be celebrated thanks to some remarkable results – including two wins over France – and a leap in standards and belief. All this with a young, developing side.
Not so, said David Weir yesterday. He is one of only two members of the current squad, along with Christian Dailly, to have reached a major finals before – France 98 almost a decade ago. Weir's rationale is that the Scots have raised the bar in the past year to give a nation hope, and it is now their responsibility to follow through and partake in next summer's party. Not to do so will count as failure.
"The onus is definitely on us," said the 37-year-old Rangers centre-half as Scotland fine-tuned their preparations for tomorrow's match with Ukraine at Hampden.
"In the past we've been the underdogs and not expected to win. Now, people are looking to us to get results. We're not a surprise package any more. Things have changed in that respect, and that's a new test for us.
"We will have failed by not qualifying. That's the whole point of being in the group. You're in the group to try to reach the finals. Whether you overachieve or underachieve you're judged by qualification."
The Scots are top of Group B above Italy and France. After Ukraine, they play in Georgia on Wednesday before wrapping up their campaign at home to Italy next month. Seven points from three games will certainly see them through. Fewer might be enough depending on other results, but nobody wants to enter the final match needing to beat the Azzurri.
"Qualification is the be all and end all," Weir said. "We've beaten France home and away but if we don't qualify it doesn't mean as much. As one-offs, they're great results and great occasions. But the bottom line as a player is you want to be involved in the big tournaments and you to be involved at the sharp end."
The top three in Group B all have their destinies in their own hands. Scotland have 21 points. Italy, with 20 points, host Georgia tomorrow, then play at Hampden on 17 November and finish at home to the Faroe Islands four days later. France, with 19 points, play in the Faroes tomorrow, host Lithuania on Wednesday and end in Ukraine on 21 November.
"I'd still say we're not fancied to qualify based on the other quality teams in the group," Weir said. "But we will be failures if we don't qualify. It's as simple as that. There's no getting around that. Even though we've got 21 points so far, and probably exceeded our expectations and the majority of people's expectations, if we don't qualify it'll be a failure.
"You'd rather be France and have a disappointing campaign and qualify than be Scotland and have a successful campaign and not qualify ... you've got to get to these tournaments. You've got to cross the finishing line.
"We have hung in there and now have a realistic chance and have to make the most of it. You do not get that many opportunities and now we are basically in a three-game group. It would be a shame not to make the most of it."
Echoing that sentiment was another former Everton player, Gary Naysmith, 28, who moved from Goodison Park to Sheffield United in the summer in search of regular first-team football. "I'm not getting any younger and not making a major championship would be a big, big disappointment in my career," the full-back said. "There are younger players coming in, challenging, and time is starting to run out for me. This is probably the best chance I've had to qualify since I came into the national team and I'm determined that we'll make it."
Only Dailly (with 65 caps), Weir (with 58) and Scotland's captain, Barry Ferguson (with 40), have played more times for their country than Naysmith (on 36) among the current squad. Naysmith might have added many more but for absence or withdrawal from some 30 squads through injury, especially to his ankle. The last game he missed was the 1-0 triumph in Paris last month, because he had only just resumed training.
"I watched the game at home," he said. "I'd had a betting coupon on for the night so I switched over to Sky Sports News to check the other scores just as Gordon McQueen shouted 'Goal!' I thought 'Oh no! That must be France!' But of course it wasn't."
His bet went down. And no, it wasn't because he backed the French. He didn't. For Naysmith et al, it's Scotland all the way. Or bust.Reuse content