Stuart McCall has claimed the Tartan Army will forgive being put through the emotional wringer if Scotland can defy the odds and clinch a place in the European Championship finals.
But, he admitted, the whole nation faces a test of nerve ahead of the final two qualifying matches against Poland and Gibraltar with those defeats against Georgia and Germany having left hopes of being in France next summer hanging by a thread.
McCall has detected a distinct change in mood with the pressure very much on Gordon Strachan’s side who trail the Republic of Ireland by four points in the race to clinch the lifeline of a play-off place.
The Scotland coach said: “There is pressure. Things have changed. You can sense that in the country wherever you go. I have been to London a couple of times and you meet folk at the airport and they are nervous, whereas before it was all positive.
“The Georgia results was disappointing. We always knew that would be a sticky game, someone would win by the odd goal. The performance against Germany was okay and now we have Poland at home and it’s the most important one.
“It is disappointing that we aren’t going into this game hoping for second place, as we were a few games ago, but we have to come to terms with that and if we are in France next year and we’ve had to go through a play-off then nobody will care how we got there. It is still there for us.”
McCall conceded there remain a number of permutations as to how Group D might end with world champions Germany needing one more point to be certain of qualifying. Poland lead the Republic of Ireland by two points with Scotland two points further adrift.
The Irish play Germany before facing the Poles with Scotland finishing their campaign with a trip to Portugal to play whipping boys Gibraltar, leaving Thursday’ night’s clash with Poland at Hampden as key to whether or not Strachan leads the Scots to their first major tournament since the World Cup of 1998. McCall said: “There are a lot of possible scenarios, but we’ve got to win our game. If we were to get a point, not what we are after, and Ireland were to lose their games, then we would be there [in a play-off], but there will be no thinking about that.
“As good a side as Poland are, we believe we are a good side and can win if we play well. It will be tight and tense, and the hope is the players relish that challenge – and that goes for the supporters.
“But we don’t want the players to feel any anxiety or pressure. We want them to go out there and be the best that they can be. As a group, over the next few days we will get the players to concentrate on their football, their jobs.”
McCall, who played in the finals of one World Cup and two European Championships, said while it was obvious from the start that Scotland had been thrust into a tough group, the draw against Poland and the win over Ireland earlier in the campaign had given everyone a boost only for that defeat in Tbilisi to puncture that elation.
However, while he keeps a firm hold of what hope remains, McCall conceded Scotland need to put in an improved display this time round saying: “The last couple of performances have not been as good.
“We were okay in Ireland, not great but we deserved a point. Georgia was poor, we know that although we probably could have got a point.
“Germany showed why they are world champions but we got a couple of goals against them and created a few opportunities. That gave us a bit of belief.
“Then again we can look back at the game in Poland. The opportunity is still there and while there is an opportunity you have to go and grasp it. So we will be very positive between now and Thursday and hopefully we will get that little bit of luck we might need and get over the line with a victory.”
There is, of course, the question of Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, the Bayern Munich star having been in scintillating form in front of goal in recent days but McCall insisted he wasn’t going to “build him up.” He said: “We know he is a world class player. When you are up against a player like him you know in a split second he can do something. But we dealt with him reasonably well in Poland so you look at cutting off the supply and also don’t over-think about him.”
And McCall believes that in skipper Scott Brown Strachan’s side possess a player who is now back to his “imposing best” based on his Europa League performance against Fenerbahce last week.
He said: “We will need that from him because he has been key in all the good things we have done since Gordon came in. There is his drive, his enthusiasm and infectiousness around the park that can help others.”