The SFA indulged in a bit of retro feel good before the Scotland v Italy World Cup qualifier by belting out 'Easy Easy' over the PA system. That, for those too young to remember, was Scotland's anthem the last time the World Cup was played in Germany, in 1974. A more appropriate song from around the same era would have been the high-pitched whining of the Bee Gees and 'Stayin' Alive.' For that is surely the best summation of Scotland's World Cup prospects after gaining four points from a draw against the Italians and a victory in Oslo over Norway.
The very fact that we are still in with a chance is remarkable. Consider the vagaries of World Cup qualification thus. We went into the match in Oslo with just one win from seven qualifiers, four of which were at home. Only bottom side Moldova had been beaten. On the same night the Republic of Ireland took on France bidding to preserve an unbeaten record in their group. 90 minutes later both Scotland and Ireland lay in fourth place in their respective groups but suddenly our prospects look brighter than those of the Irish.
A cruel game right enough.
Of course we are still dependent on further Norwegian lapses if we are to make the play-offs and even then must win our last two games, including the final match in Slovenia where Italy were beaten and where the home team may yet harbour play-off hopes of their own. But we still have a chance and victory over Belarus at Hampden would at least guarantee we travelled to Slovenia with, as the song says, hope in our hearts.
This site isn't prepared to indulge in the sycophantic, often downright hagiographic, attitude of Scotland's sporting press towards Walter Smith. We rode our luck in the two recent qualifiers. A perfectly good Italian penalty claim was turned down at Hampden and Vieiri's inexplicable miss denied the visitors the three points which a neutral observer might have reckoned they merited. In Oslo a seemingly good Norwegian goal was ruled out early on and the defensive error which brought about Scotland's second strike was reminiscent of our own blunders of times past a la Willie Donnachie and Miller/Hansen.
A couple of different decisions and our international prospects would look as gloomy as our clubs in Europe this season thus far. But we're not neutral observers and we look forward to Belarus and Slovenia with renewed hope. For that at least let's be thankful.
Those club results in Europe though are clouding an exciting start to the domestic season. Celtic's disgraceful exit was followed by an abysmal result from Dundee United in throwing away a two-goal lead against Finnish minnows My-Pa 47. True, Rangers reached the Champions League by virtue of defeating Cypriots Anorthosis but the real test for the Ibrox side is yet to come. While no one expects them to finish ahead of Inter Milan the draw has been kind. Surely they too won't come to grief in Bratislava and with Porto a team in serious decline Rangers prospects for further progress could scarcely be brighter. The squad was strengthened before the transfer deadline at the end of August and if Rangers fail to make the last sixteen they will have no one to blame but themselves. At the time of writing Hibs have yet to make their European debut but they look to have been handed a tough tie against Dnipro though to be fair it could have been tougher still.
The real bright spot has been the start of the domestic campaign. Hearts got off to a flyer in the SPL, both Aberdeen and Hibs inflicted defeats on the reigning champions and Kilmarnock and ICT have been impressive too. This website hasn't been slow to criticise the lack of competition in the SPL in the past so it's only fair to recognise the improvement this term. It's not always a good idea to make comparisons with England but in this instance we can't resist it. South of the border the last two Premiership titles have been won in a canter. Arsenal went through the entire season undefeated in 2003-04 and last term Chelsea lost just one game. So far this season both Chelsea and Man Utd have 100% records and neither has lost so much as a solitary goal. Contrast that with Scottish champions Rangers' two defeats in their first five matches.
OK, it's early days but right now the SPL is an exciting, vibrant competition, two of our clubs still have Europe to look forward to and we can still talk about the 2006 World Cup in the present tense. It may not be 'Easy, Easy' but it's still (for the moment at least) 'We Have A Dream.'