|Venue: Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg Date: Saturday, 2 December Time: 17:00 GMT
|Coverage: Watch on Sportscene Results, BBC One Scotland and BBC Scotland; listen on BBC Radio Scotland; text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.
The last time Scotland’s name came out of a hat, or a bowl, at a draw for the finals of a major championship, Sepp Blatter was running the Fifa show. It was December 1997 and 38,000 people fetched-up at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille to watch.
True, Scotland made the last Euros, but when the draw was made, they hadn’t yet qualified. They were one of four countries still vying to be Play-off Winner C, the title ascribed to the spot that Steve Clarke’s team would eventually fill.
In France, ahead of the 1998 World Cup, the nation’s name was in lights on the night, just as it will be on Saturday in Hamburg when we’ll find out who Clarke’s boys will be going up against next summer.
And when and where. More than a quarter of a century has passed since Scotland has had such a day to look forward to and if it comes anywhere close to matching the 1997 version for drama and hilarity then it will have done well.
Back then, it was Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who picked Scotland to play his countrymen and it was the American World Cup winner, Julie Foudy – “And now a lady enters the stage,” said draw commentator Barry Davies in a Patridgesque style – who handed Blatter the ball that ensured that Scotland would play them in the opening game.
In the rather quaint way of doing things back then, every time a nation was drawn, a player from that country would appear on stage. Ronaldo was already in place for Brazil. “Darren Jackson, Celtic de Glasgow” was announced as the Scottish representative – and out walked Gordon Durie of Rangers de Glasgow. Everybody in Scotland was probably too busy whooping and hollering to notice the gaffe at the time.
Saturday’s show will be slick, glitzy and interminably long. Eventually, we’ll find out the details we all want to know and, very soon after that, the internet might break.
The Tartan Army will move into action like a well-drilled machine. It’ll be perpetual motion online, credit cards at the ready, fingers dancing across keyboards, split screens showing every conceivable route into Germany.
Part of the fun of this is doing your own fantasy draw. Pot 1, then.
Who to hope for and who to avoid? France and England are surely no-go areas, the former because there isn’t a chance in hell of Scotland beating them and the latter because there isn’t much chance of Scotland beating them either. Plus, England are too familiar. Had them last time. Just played them recently. All credit to Jude Bellingham, but let him torment somebody else with his excellence.
A fresh name – one that offers a suggestion of a Scottish upset – would be the hope. The one country that fits that bill more than any other is the host nation. If you’re in with Germany then you’re at the heart of the tournament. Centre stage. Massive hype.
You’d also be in with a country that has lost to Austria, Turkey, Japan, Colombia, Poland and Belgium this year. They beat France, but that was an outlier. In 2023, Germany have been poor, a continuation of the World Cup form that saw them finishing third in their group.
France have a world ranking of two, England are three, Belgium are four, Portugal are seven and Spain are eight. Germany are ranked 16th in the world. Let John McGinn loose on them and see what happens.
So, in our fantasy draw, it’s Germany and Scotland, but who else? Pot 2 is intriguing.
On the face of it, none of the teams are frightening. There isn’t a team in there that Scotland couldn’t beat, but delve into their form in qualifying and you get a better sense of what they’re all about.
Albania topped a group that included Poland and the Czech Republic. Romania did the same with Switzerland and Israel for company. Austria finished just one point behind Portugal, drawing one of those head-to-heads and losing the other 3-2.
Turkey beat off Croatia for top place in their group. Hungary, captained by Liverpool’s Dominik Szoboszlai, qualified without losing a game, but Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania and Bulgaria didn’t exactly represent a stellar section.
Denmark topped what was an easy group, but they struggled at times. Instinct tells you that Denmark are to be avoided and Albania are to be welcomed, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect current reality.
You could look at Albania’s 0-0 draw with the Faroes last time out and judge them on that or you could look at their 2-0 win over the Poland of Robert Lewandowski in September and come to a different conclusion. That Polish team had players from Napoli, Juventus, Arsenal and Aston Villa.
Hungary wouldn’t be a bad outcome from Pot 2.
Only three of the Pot 4 teams are known and there’s a glaringly obvious booby trap in there in the form of Italy. Serbia and Switzerland are the others. Both eminently beatable, but you’d still take your chances with any one of the play-off sides.
A generation of Scottish football fans were denied the chance to play this game of what-might-be. But, mercifully, those days are over now.
The young and not-so-young of Scotland can allow themselves to disappear down this wondrous rabbit hole from now until draw time. Come Saturday evening, we will know it all and the countdown to Germany will have begun in earnest.