Andy Robertson knows Scotland are carrying the hopes of a nation on their shoulders in Belgrade – but the skipper confessed he cannot yet contemplate his own dreams of leading the team out at Euro 2020.
The Tartan Army are praying their 22-year stint in international football’s summer wilderness will come to an end at the Rajko Mitic Stadium as they come up against Serbia in Thursday’s winner-takes-all play-off final.
Robertson is among a generation of Scotland supporters who cannot remember seeing their team play at a major tournament.
The Liverpool left-back was only four when Colin Hendry strode out alongside Brazil captain Dunga for the opening game of the 1998 World Cup in France, but he has the chance to match that feat next summer at Hampden – which will host three matches – if his side can maintain an eight-game unbeaten streak and topple the Serbs.
The pressure of an entire country willing you could be seen as suffocating by those lacking strength of character.
There is no doubt Robertson is made of sterner stuff but he admits he will not be letting let his imagination run wild until qualification has been secured.
“To be honest I won’t let myself think about that until it’s done,” he said. “For me, being captain of my country, captaining these boys with me right now, it’s the proudest thing I will ever do in football.
“But I’m not letting myself think about walking out at Hampden next summer. That’s firmly in the back of my mind and I’ll focus on that hopefully on Friday morning when it’s a reality.
“I was four the last time Scotland got to the World Cup. My whole generation has missed out on seeing Scotland reach a major tournament.
“I look back at old videos and have talked to my family about how good it was to see the Tartan Army at tournaments.
“I remember my manager at Liverpool talking about how fun they were in Germany when he was a little boy during the World Cup.
“We know how big a fanbase we have and how passionate they are. We want to see them at a major tournament and we’re the next group of lads who can go achieve that.
“We need to carry that with us as it definitely gives you that added incentive tomorrow night to make five million people back home happy.”
Serbia have been to two World Cups in the past decade but Robertson does not buy into the theory Thursday’s clash means more to Scotland.
“When there’s a chance to go to a finals, you know they are going to be as desperate as us,” said the Champions League winner. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been to 10 finals or none.
“The first Champions League final I played in you could see it meant just as much to Real Madrid as it did to us and they had won it the two years previously.
“Both teams are representing their country and want to make their nation proud, so carrying that on your shoulders in itself makes it an even fight.”
Robertson’s credentials for dealing with pressure are there for all to see having helped Jurgen Klopp’s Anfield team battle to glory at Premier League, European and world level.
He is the shining star in Clarke’s squad but the 26-year-old is adamant Scotland do not lack bottle on the big stage.
“A lot of the lads have played in play-off finals,” said the former Queen’s Park, Dundee United and Hull defender. “I know how much pressure there are in those games. John McGinn scored for Villa in one.
“I’ve seen Callum McGregor, Kieran Tierney and Ryan Jack play in Europe at the highest level, I’ve seen Scott McTominay’s performances against PSG. Kenny McLean got promoted with Norwich, so there are a whole list of lads who have produced on the big occasion.
“It’s easy to look at me because I’ve won trophies and stuff but forget about me, I look at the other lads and know when the big occasion comes they don’t shy away.
“We will go out there and whether it’s 90 minutes or 120 we need to come away with no regrets. We need to walk off thinking, ‘OK, we did our all there’.
“We believe if we do that, it will be enough. If it’s not, we’ll need to deal with that.
“It’s all been positive going into this game and we believe if we can put in the kind of performances we have done over the last couple of months it will be good enough to win the game.”