Spain v Scotland: Steve Clarke’s side on brink of qualifying for Euro 2024

Venue: Estadio de La Cartuja, Seville Date: Thursday, 12 October Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland and online, follow live on the BBC Sport website & app

David Marshall hurling himself low on a boggy Serbian patch of grass. A momentary pause which lasted a lifetime. Riotous celebrations with an empty stadium for company. You then lob in conga lines, birthday cakes and Kieran Tierney being a superstar DJ by playing the one tune on repeat.

For generations, it was the same old song for Scotland. A ballad laden with so much heartache and bad luck that even Lewis Capaldi would struggle to rouse himself for a few bars.

Uri Gellar and his Wembley helicopter plot, Tom Boyd in Paris, Georgia away after beating the world champions twice, that Harry Kane equaliser, and finding out your two best emerging players both play left-back.

But as the Scots danced off the park under a clear Belgrade sky almost three years ago, the overbearing weight lugged around by this wee country’s national team evaporated into the crisp, night air.

Scotland were back at a major tournament, Euro 2020. Not only that, but having been poised to fail at various points during that Nations League campaign, the world did not conspire against the Scots.

Instead, the football gods gazed down to bestow them with good luck. And Baccara.

One thousand and 65 days on, it’s an altogether different vibe from the plucky Scots who squeezed by Israel on penalties before carrying hope and fortune to Belgrade.

On Thursday, Steve Clarke’s Scotland will gather themselves in the Estadio La Cartuja in Seville, with another shot at a European Championships lurking among them.

It’s a frightening proposition, bordering on fictional for a footballing nation hurled through the emotional wringer not so long ago.

Clarke’s swaggering side have already beaten Spain during this extraordinary campaign. They don’t even have to win this game to go through. Even Norway dropping something in Cyprus would do. Nae danger, lads.

But that’s the thing. Amid all the over-excitement, hotel booking and German-phrase book purchasing, midfielder John McGinn cut through the hysteria of his team’s euphoric rise with one sentence back in September.

“Only our wee country could mess it up from here, so we need to stay calm,” said McGinn.

Scotland on verge of watershed moment

Anyone outside of Scotland would laugh at the prospect of managing to blow this one. Even on our specially-built glorious-failure-ometer, mucking this up would be off the scale.

Clarke’s side sit top of Group A, above Thursday’s hosts with five wins from five games. Spain are six points adrift with a game in hand, while Norway are eight points away and need a staggering run of results to usurp the group’s form team.

A single point won by Scotland, or a single point dropped by Norway and it’s all over for Erling Haaland and co in terms of catching Clarke’s men.

If not Thursday, then Sunday could be the fateful day, when Norway host Spain. And still Scotland have a trip to Georgia and home game against the Norwegians next month to get the job done.

Yet, McGinn is wise to plead for caution. Last month’s 3-1 friendly defeat to England was a huge wake up call. The Jude Bellingham-inspired visitors were streets ahead of their hosts at Hampden.

On top of that, the meek collection of Spaniards which were sent homeward tae think again in Glasgow have pulled themselves together, culminating in giving Cyprus a 6-0 hammering on their last outing.

Scotland also need to step into the cauldron in Seville without the injured Tierney, who could be out for a while. His rampaging run unlocked an at-sea Spanish defence in the Glasgow rain for the crucial second goal in March.

In big games, including defeats by the Republic of Ireland and Ukraine in the World Cup play-off, his nation have missed his presence immeasurably.

For all the ifs, buts and maybes, a setback against England and a roused Spain will not make a dent in the party mood of the thousands descending on Andalusia.

At 18:00 local time on Thursday, the Tartan Army’s march will set off from Alameda de Hercules, snaking through the picturesque Seville streets, over the Guadalquivir River and to the uncharacteristically plain behemoth that they hope will be the scene of another titanic night in their country’s recent resurgence.

Unlike three years ago, though, there’s no need for hiding behind sofas for this shot at glory, it’s far from boom or bust. Scotland will go up against Spain with no fear, little to lose and the world to gain.

There’s credit in the bank and time on their side, but Clarke and his team will want their fate sealed as soon as possible before the nerves start to jangle.

This could be another watershed moment for this Scotland team. Hopefully they’ll be on the hunt for a stand-in DJ before the night is out.

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