In essence, the play-offs to make Euro 2020 start on Tuesday night for Scotland.
The match will be a group game, rather than a straight knock-out tie, but just as would be the case should Alex McLeish’s side make it to the so-called Nations League ‘Finals’ next summer victory is required. Nothing else will do.
Indeed, beat Israel on Tuesday and Scotland will be two wins away from qualifying for their first major tournament in over two decades.
There are other incentives to chase, like promotion through the Nations League’s convoluted behemoth of a pyramid and an improved ranking ahead of next month’s conventional qualifying draw, but the golden carrot is, and always has been, Euros qualification.
While Scotland have been left with their noses pressed against the window of international football’s elite level since France 98, they have been in this position before. There was the Euro 2004 play-off against Netherlands, as well as a crunch group game against the same opposition in 2009.
Last October, there was a must-win match against Slovakia, a game they led until the second minute of stoppage time.
In all of these previous instances, Scotland couldn’t do what was necessary to qualify for a major tournament. Much has been made of Scotland’s footballing deficiencies over the years, but perhaps the most damaging one is their inability to get the job done when something, everything, is on the line.
And so Tuesday’s pivotal game against Israel will determine whether Scotland have changed at all under McLeish. The Dark Blues have better players, even after the injuries that decimated their squad last week, and they will have the home advantage, with McLeish calling on the Tartan Army to get behind the team by packing out Hampden in a way that hasn’t been seen for a long, long time.
This is a must-win match, but also a should-win match.
The Nations League has distilled the effects of good and bad fortune into 90-minute doses.
Take England’s win over Croatia on Sunday, for instance – with 13 minutes to go, Gareth Southgate’s side were on course for relegation from their group. By full-time, they had won promotion and secured a place in the ‘Finals.’
Scotland are safe from relegation following their win over Albania, but nonetheless, McLeish’s second spell as national team manager could be defined by what happens against Israel.
The last international break, which saw Scotland suffer a damaging defeats to Israel and a Portugal side devoid of all their big names, left McLeish on the brink.
Some argued that he should have been sacked there and then.
Such is the condensed nature of the Nations League, the comprehensive, and at times exhilarating, 4-0 away win over Albania on Saturday has put Scotland within one game of achieving the objective set at the start of the year.
But even if they finish top of their Nations League group, securing a place at next summer’s ‘Finals’ there will still be those who question the direction McLeish is taking Scotland in.
This is a new generation of Scottish talent, with the win over Albania the purest manifestation of its promise yet as Andy Robertson captained a team that included Ryan Christie, Ryan Fraser and James Forrest all in top form.
McLeish must find a way to harness this or Scotland will face another wasted decade, another era of nothingness.
Play like they did against Albania and Scotland will beat Israel on Tuesday, but all too often in the past the Dark Blues have frozen when it has mattered most. Progress under McLeish has so far been minimal at best.
Now, though, Scotland have an opportunity to show that they have in fact changed.