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A nation holds its breath...

Chick Young | 23:32 UK time, Monday, 1 September 2008

Frightening how time flies when you are enjoying yourself. It seems just a heartbeat ago I was frolicking in France as Craig Brown's Scotland chiselled at the coalface of the 1998 World Cup.

A decade ago? Seems just like ten years. Now I wonder if I'll ever be blessed with the task of reporting my country's campaign in a finals ever again.

It won't be long until South Africa kicks off. I bought a can of sweet corn yesterday which had a use-by date later than the final in Cape Town.

The thing is, will Scotland's chances of reaching the first ever finals in Africa?


It could be all over by next Wednesday night if we don't return from Macedonia and Iceland - two contrasting cultures and climates as you could ever hope to visit in just a few short days - with at least a couple of points.

Currently in the former Yugoslavia temperatures are such that you could barbeque a chicken on the pavement. I pray that Scotland's 3pm kick-off will not lead to a similar roasting.

Of course cries from the media that the team should be checking in to their hotel at least a day earlier than the 24 hours before kick-off that is currently the master plan, will be drowned in allegations of the gentlemen of the press seeking another night out in a foreign land.

But it is a cruel jibe that pierces the heart of this hardened reporter and most of his colleagues.

The football comes first. Reach the finals and there will be many nights out to be had in the South African summer of 2010.

Actually I have to confess that I nurse concerns about this campaign. No Barry Ferguson and Alan Hutton to see us off at the start line and no victories yet for the new manager from which he can take heart.

There is a trusted recipe for success here. You must win all your home fixtures and burgle a few points on the road while realistically targeting the runners-up position in the group.

Press the gamble button for the play-off spot.

And under-rate anyone, particularly Macedonia and Iceland, at your peril.

Still, the Tartan Army will enjoy it all, although they'll be a little bemused by the changing price of a nightcap. In Reykjavik the price of a pint is the price of a brewery in Skopje.

And yet despite this cloak of pessimism which lies wearily on my shoulders our little football nation cannot continue like this.

Twelve years in the World Cup wilderness for a country which used to receive a prize for perfect attendance - if nothing else - in five tournaments on the bounce is far too long.

Indeed only the failure to cross the Atlantic to the burger-fest tournament in 1994, when FIFA'S bid to brainwash America crashed and burned, stopped it being seven in a row.

The Good Lord only knows how I pine for such sweet and cherished days...

Kids have been born and raised and are now heading for a secondary education without knowing how a nation weeps with joy and sadness, how a whole country bares its soul when Scotland goes off to do battle in a foreign land.

This is the start of a long campaign. A nation holds its collective breath...if only to cure the World Cup hiccoughs.

Be still my itching pessimism. It is time for the Lion to be Rampant once more.


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