IT's obviously been a very frustrating time for Scotland fans over the last 23 years but with our participation in the Euro finals this summer and now, with the potential qualification for the 2022 World Cup, things are beginning to turn round in a positive way.

This is a crucial week for the national team and one where we could put ourselves in a strong position for making it to finals in Qatar next year.

Steve Clarke did state after the marvellous win in Austria that the Israel game would be like a cup final.

He’s not far off the mark but if we win today, then it’s also crucial we get victories against the Faroe Islands next week and Moldova in November.

These may be the two weakest nations in our group but there will still be nerves approaching these games as wins will be required to guarantee our play-off place. Israel are only a point behind us, so they are also challenging for second place. However, being at home must give us the confidence to beat them and take a vital four-point lead over them.

The main reason winning the following two games is so crucial is that this would mean that our final group match against group leaders Denmark would have no consequence, as regardless of the result we would still finish second in the group and therefore be in the play-offs.

I’ve been asked a few times this week about how the play-offs operate and how many teams go through to the Qatar World Cup finals. It is quite complex and it’s certainly a new format for the qualification of European teams into the finals.

There are 55 European countries playing for qualification. They are competing in 10 groups and all group winners go through automatically with all runners up going into the play-offs.

These 10 second-placed teams are joined by two countries who qualified for the play-offs through their success in the Nations League campaign. So, we ultimately have 12 teams in the play-offs and they are then divided into three groups of four.

A draw is made so that with four teams in each of the three groups we have two semi finals and then a final.

This gives us three finals and the winner of each play-off final qualifies for the World Cup along with the 10 Countries that won their group.

That’s how Europe get 13 countries in the World Cup finals and explains why people can be a bit confused as to how this number is arrived at.

In terms of who will be the two teams that qualify for the play-offs through their Nations League campaign, this is where it gets slightly complicated. This week we had the semi finals of the Nations League tournament being played with Italy, Spain, France and Belgium involved.

The final between Spain and France will be played tomorrow but in terms of a play-off place being achieved by these countries, it now has no impact whatsoever, as they are both comfortably winning their World Cup groups and will qualify automatically.

This is even the case regarding Italy and Belgium, who lost in the semi finals, as they are also going to be group winners.

What you have to look for are countries who have performed well in the Nations League competition but are not achieving either of the first two places in their World Cup qualification group.

It’s hard to predict right now before the group games come to a conclusion but I’d say that the two Nations League places are possibly going to be filled by the likes of Wales, Czech Republic, Finland, Austria or Russia depending on whether or not they achieve second spot in their group.

Of these five countries, I feel that it’s only Austria who are currently looking like non-qualifiers from their group as they are sitting in fourth place in ours. There’s still a bit of a way to go but if Scotland are fortunate enough to make the finals through the play-offs, then it means we’ve still got to play another six games to determine the outcome. There’s obviously a fair bit of excitement to come if this route is achieved and right now, we’d gladly take it.


Last weekend I attended a youth cup tie of 2008 boys at the Glasgow Palace of Arts playing fields. I was astounded to see that one of the kids playing for Palace Park had a prosthetic leg.

I’ve never seen a player at any level of unimpaired football with an artificial limb.

I have to say right away that his team won and he was excellent and didn’t look out of place in any way regarding his touch or athleticism.

His name is Harris Tinney and I feel I need to give him a mention today because I have nothing but the highest respect and admiration for him.

He should be an inspiration, not only to disabled children but to everyone.

He’s a marvellous example of what can be achieved by having the courage to participate in a normal sporting environment, no matter your situation.

Well done Harris.