MX23RW : Sunday, September 23 08:53:10

Can Scotland qualify for Euro 2016?

After defeating Croatia on Tuesday evening, Sports Mole assesses whether Scotland can qualify for the European Championship in 2016.

Scotland went into their final World Cup qualifier with Croatia on Tuesday quietly optimistic that they could end a disappointing campaign in positive fashion.

Their performance in the opening 25 minutes left a lot to be desired as they struggled to create anything against a team ranked 10th in the FIFA world rankings, and a draw looked their best hope of gaining a little momentum ahead of the start of their attempt to reach the finals of the European Championship in 2016.

However, after taking the lead against Croatia, Gordon Strachan's side produced an emphatic performance on the way to earning three deserved points, which soon resulted in expectations around Hampden Park rising ever so slightly as the wait goes on to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since 1998.

But is one collective display enough to change the fortunes of a nation who have frequently failed on the international scene? Can a group of players improve significantly enough to approach a qualifying group with a full head of steam that could end the wait that has nearly stretched to two decades?

Ever since Strachan took over the Tartan Army at the start of 2013, he has slowly but surely boosted the confidence in the squad's ranks after they had endured a turbulent time under previous boss Craig Levein, who won just 10 times during his 24-game stint in charge.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan faces the media during a press conference at Sopwell House on August 13, 2013© Getty Images

The former Celtic chief may have witnessed his team fall to defeats against Wales and Serbia, but Scotland looked tighter at the back, which is something that needed to improve if Strachan was going to be able to take the national squad forward and avoid dropping into the weaker outfits on the continent.

The turning point for Scotland came in Zagreb, when they sealed a memorable triumph over Croatia. It was effectively a smash-and-grab performance, but it was one that saw them succeed against one of the toughest teams in the world and also provided the foundations of a blossoming team spirit that would come to the fore over the next four months.

They displayed an exuberance rarely seen from a Scotland side in twice taking the lead against England at Wembley, and despite losing the game by the odd goal in five, it united their loyal supporters and provided plenty of optimism for the future.

Scotland had looked on course to finish bottom of Group A but successive victories over Macedonia and Croatia has seen the doom and gloom lifted even further from Scottish football and presented all involved with renewed hope that a corner has been turned under the stewardship of Strachan.

The latest world rankings have seen Scotland surge up the standings from 63rd to 35th, and a positive result in their upcoming friendly with USA could see them get near to the top 30 before the draw for the European Championship qualifiers.

Robert Snodgrass of Scotland scores a goal during the World Cup 2014 qualifying football match between Scotland and Croatia at Hampden Park in Glasgow on October 15, 2013© Getty Images

Despite their improvement, Scotland would have only been considered as outsiders to play in the Euros in three years time under the previous format, but their ambitions have been given a boost with an extra eight teams being granted the opportunity to compete in France.

It's unclear whether Scotland will be seeded third or fourth for the draw that takes place early next year, but while they are currently rated as the 21st best team in Europe, they should be considered as a credible threat to any opposition of a similar standing.

As Scotland boss, Strachan has limited resources to try to improve the quality of his limited squad, but he has achieved what he has without the nation's two star players - Darren Fletcher and Steven Fletcher.

Darren, the Manchester United midfielder, has been plagued with health problems for the past couple of seasons and it is unknown whether he will ever put on a Scotland shirt again, but Sunderland forward Steven has the potential to be the difference between qualification and another couple of years in the doldrums.

Scotland's progression is likely to thrive on Strachan employing a consistent system for his side to perform to, and if the two Fletcher's can be added to the mix, there is no reason why Scotland can't be challenging for third position in their group, which is likely to put them in contention for a finals spot.

Much will depend on who Scotland are drawn with, but if they can avoid being thrown into a 'group of death' scenario with some of the tougher teams in Europe, this can be Scotland's time to finally provide some joy for the supporters that have had to endure the past 18 years of frustration.

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