It was nervy in the end but Scotland got the result they needed against Ukraine to top Nations League Group B1.
After the disappointment of the World Cup play-off, a point was proven against the group’s highest-ranked side, and revenge was taken against Republic of Ireland for that dismal defeat in Dublin back in June.
Now, as Steve Clarke and his players celebrate in Krakow, they can not only look back on a successful international break, but also reflect on what they’ve gained as a result.
The Nations League holds more than one reward for teams that succeed in their section and Scotland have three significant boosts to celebrate.
Top tier football next time around
The first and most obvious reward for winning the Nations League group is, of course, promotion in the Nations League.
Scotland won in League C in the 2018-19 competition and after two cycles in the second tier, the team are not heading up to A level.
That means a series of games against the top teams when the competition returns in 2024. Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Italy are among the teams waiting at the elite level.
There’ll be a step up in quality, and difficulty, but there’s almost a guarantee of glamourous opposition and some of the game’s big names arriving at Hampden.
What there won’t be is an Auld Enemy clash. England have been relegated to League B just as Scotland head up.
A seeding bump
In less than a fortnight’s time, the draw will be made for the European Championships, and having ended a long exile from major tournaments with their appearance at Euro 2020, Scotland are desperate to be back.
Success in the Nations League has a knock-on effect for UEFA’s biggest competition: Scotland will be among the second seeds when the draw comes around.
In theory, that means easier opposition and a better chance of qualification. With the top two teams in each of the ten groups qualifying for the finals in Germany, playing to seeding would see Scotland go to the Euros.
Being second seed means avoiding some of the tastier sides just outside the top level such as France and England.
The draw takes place in Frankfurt on October 9. Qualifiers are played from March to November 2023.
The Euros lifeline
Whether second or third seeds, there are no guarantees in the qualifying group and Scotland have secured a Plan B if things fail to go as hoped.
Twenty teams qualify directly for the finals, Germany have already booked a place as hosts and that leaves three final tickets for the tournament up for grabs.
Those places go to the three teams that win the play-offs and as Nations League group winners, Scotland have a place in those games if they need it.
This was the route to Euro 2020, when Scotland defeated Israel in the play-off semi-final and then beat Serbia on penalties on a memorable night.
Nobody in the Scotland camp will want to use this possible route to the finals but having benefitted previously, everyone will know the potential value of this prize.
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