Oh how Lee Wilkie would’ve loved to have been part of a squad to finally take Scotland to a major tournament after so many years of hurt.
Although it came just five years after the 1998 World Cup, it was not to be for Wilkie & Co back in 2003 – the closest Scotland have come to making a summer finals in a generation.
Euro 2004 was the tournament Berti Vogts’ team missed, with former Dundee and United defender Wilkie part of a defence that shipped six goals without reply in their play-off second leg against the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
It had also started so well in Glasgow four days previous, too, with a young Darren Fletcher and James McFadden linking up to send Hampden wild as the latter smashed Scotland to a 1-0 win.
It is different now, though, as the Scots travel to Serbia this week looking to book their place at next summer’s Euros and end 22 years of abject misery.
They won’t be going up against the Dutch superstars of the early noughties nor will they have a dreaded second leg and a 50,000-plus Oranje crowd on their back.
Wilkie believes that all plays into the hands of Steve Clarke’s team ahead of Thursday’s do-or-die clash with the Serbs.
“That should give them a wee bit more confidence – their form going into it and the fact they genuinely could beat them,” the 40-year-old former centre-half said.
“In my eyes we’re probably a better team if you look at the individuals we’ve got – there’s a really decent chance.
“When we played Holland they were probably struggling for a bit of form but their squad was unreal.
“They had Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam, Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids. These boys were all playing at the top of their game.
“It was an entirely different scenario. Our game was two legs and this is just a one off with no fans as well.
“We won at Hampden but got horsed over there. It’s all about levels.
“At home with the crowd we played better and they were off on their day, which can happen, and we won 1-0.
“When we went out there it was the opposite, they were on form and we got battered.
“The fact it just comes down to one game of football and no external factors it should be something Scotland are able to deal with.”
‘Northern Ireland model working a treat for Clarke’s Scots’
Clarke’s Scots are eight games unbeaten but have drew some criticism for their style of play and call-ups for unfashionable Scottish Premiership players such as Andy Considine, Declan Gallagher and Stephen O’Donnell.
However, Wilkie believes the proof is in the pudding as the former Kilmarnock boss has Scotland playing to their strengths and within touching distance of the ultimate goal.
In fact, the Dundonian goes as far to say his approach is not dissimilar to the much-maligned, often unfairly so, German Vogts.
“They’ve done really well and it shows you how quickly things can turn around,” Wilkie added.
“Everybody thought there hadn’t been any sort of progression and then the next minute you actually realise we’re eight games unbeaten.
“It’s a real decent turnaround and they’re in a good place. They’ve got a lot of confidence behind them and positivity in the squad now – you can’t get any better than that ahead of such a big game.
“I think, hopefully, we’ll see them best of them. There’s a lot of talented players in the squad, it was just a case of them gelling before seeing the best of these guys.”
Of Clarke’s pragmatic approach and use of unfancied players, Wilkie continued: “You need guys like that in football who really want it – it doesn’t matter what level.
“It’s how Northern Ireland have gone about things to get some success not long ago and it’s not much different from what Berti did with us.
“They stick to their strengths and how certain guys play the game, not trying to do anything fancy.
“There’s definitely more to come from Scotland. I don’t think they should be labelled with just that style but just now if it’s getting them results then great.
“Hopefully they can add a little bit more flair to their game, which they have in certain players.”