The time for recriminations is past, the miserable start which saw Scotland’s World Cup qualifying campaign brought to an abrupt halt before it had even properly got underway forgotten.
Instead, insisted midfielder James McArthur, all eyes should now be firmly fixed on the future, with a stunning victory away to Croatia and an impressive performance in the defeat by England at Wembley, indicating that, at last, Scotland can once again begin to think of the finals of major tournaments under Gordon Strachan.
Not since the World Cup finals of 1998 have the Scots found their way onto that stage, but while they will again be missing in Brazil next summer, McArthur believes the remaining games in the current campaign, starting with tomorrow night’s visit from Group A leaders Belgium, can at least afford Scotland to signal their intent ahead of the qualifying campaign for the 2016 European Championships.
The Wigan Athletic player said: “I think we need to look forward rather than back. As a country we always think ‘what if’ and about where we could have been rather than trying to look forward and being positive about the future and what we can do.
“Instead of thinking we could have done it this year or that year we have to look to the next match, the next campaign and what we can do rather than what we could have done. We had a really bad start, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. We can only try to put it right by producing good results and getting Scotland back to the finals of major competitions.”
To that end, McArthur insists games such as tomorrow night’s clash at Hampden, against a country currently with an embarrassment of riches at their disposal, are far from meaningless, even if Scotland’s dream has long since died.
Noting Scotland are currently ranked 50th by FIFA and Belgium tenth, he said: “I think we have everything to play for. We want to try to push up the rankings and to be in as high a pot as possible when the draws are made for future qualifying campaigns.
“There’s a positive feeling around the camp. We have that now, the way the manager has got us playing is really encouraging and I think a lot of countries will be looking at us and thinking they might not want to get us.
“We beat Croatia in our last qualifier and put in a good performance against England which is what we want to be doing because we want to be climbing the rankings, that’s important.”
While Strachan’s players have received a lot of plaudits for their performances in Zagreb and at Wembley, McArthur admitted there was still a sense of disappointment at having twice been ahead against the Auld Enemy only to be beaten 3-2.
The former Hamilton Accies man said: “Everyone was happy with the way we played, but we felt it was an opportunity missed.
“As players we were really disappointed at not getting the result. The fans were happy with us, though. Everyone is positive, to go to Wembley and play as well as we did is very encouraging but as players we felt we’d missed a chance to get our names into the history books by beating England.
“It was important to show Croatia wasn’t a one-off and I think you saw how positive we were at Wembley. There’s not many teams that could go there and score two goals, although we were disappointed with the three we conceded, and that’s something we need to brush up on.”
Positive is a word which surfaces again and again as McArthur chats away at the national team’s luxury hotel on the banks of the Clyde, the 25-year-old well aware he’s possibly over-using it, but unapologetic for doing so as he emphasises the half-full rather than half-empty approach Strachan has brought. So while Belgium appear to have it all to play for, and Scotland nothing at all, McArthur doesn’t buy into such a notion. He added: “It’s about trying to bring that winning mentality. It’s a great feeling going into matches where you know you are going to be in the game and with a good chance of winning it.
“We have some good quality players in the squad, a good blend of youth and experience. We have a good variety of players, everyone brings different qualities to the squad and that’s important. We are looking more positive in the way we are playing and I think that’s a lot to do with the gaffer. He has us playing well and we are really organised.”
The new-found positivity which radiates from the Scotland camp will, however, be tested to the full by Belgium, as McArthur readily acknowledges, but, he argued, he and his team-mates are more than familiar with their opponents, with ten of them playing in the English Premier League.
He said: “They are a brilliant side, you look at the players they have and all through their team they are world-class. You just have to look at some of the transfer fees most of them have gone for. They have quality all the way through their squad but on the night it is 11 against 11. When you play in the Premier League or the Championship you are playing against quality players every week. We need to stop them, we have good players who can do that but we also have guys up the park who can hurt them as well.”
Scotland will attempt to do so, of course, without Kenny Miller, the veteran striker having announced his retirement from the international stage having marked his 69th and final cap with a stunning goal against England. But while saddened to see the much-travelled hitman do so, McArthur insisted there were plenty young pretenders to his crown.
He said: “Kenny was excellent for the country and we were sad to see him go. It’s a credit to him he’s played for so long and I think scoring at Wembley was a good way for him to go. I thought he was unplayable that night but he probably deserves to try to prolong his club career. However, we have some really dangerous players. Jordan Rhodes is scoring so many goals in the Championship for Blackburn Rovers and I think he can go on to play at a higher level again. It’s great to have a player who looks as if he can score in every single game.
“Leigh Griffiths isn’t the biggest, but he’s played against some big men and he’s proved to be a real threat, while Ross McCormack has also been doing well for Leeds.
“Then there’s Steven Fletcher. He’s a fantastic talent and we have missed him since he was injured against Wales. We were all hoping it was nothing serious but it proved otherwise. Seeing him come on for Sunderland and scoring at the weekend was terrific, so hopefully it won’t be too long before he’s back playing for Scotland.”