Wednesday 17 October, 2007, Scotland travelled to the Georgian capital of Tblisi in the most buoyant of moods ahead of the Euro 2008 qualifier.
Sitting top of Group B having just come off the back of that memorable win in Paris the previous month, and an impressive 3-1 win over Ukraine at Hampden four days earlier, the Scots went into the game knowing that victory against Georgia would mean just one point was required to qualify for a first major finals in ten years.
The feel good factor in Scottish football was arguably at it’s highest for a number of years and that stretched even beyond the National Team.
In between the France and Ukraine results, three of our clubs chalked up impressive results in European competition. Rangers thumped Lyon 3-0 in the Champions League, Celtic defeated European Champions AC Milan 2-1 in the same competition and Aberdeen advanced to the Group Stages of the UEFA Cup.
Everything was set up nicely.
However, in true Scottish form, things didn’t go according to plan!
The signs were there when the Scots lost four of their starting eleven that defeated Ukraine where a combination of injury and suspension deprived us of the services of Alan Hutton, Gary Naysmith, Scott Brown and Lee McCulloch, plus substitute Gary O’Connor did his bit to get out of the long trip by picking up a very needless booking in injury time.
Graham Alexander, Graeme Murty, Shaun Maloney and returning skipper Darren Fletcher, who hadn’t played since the win in Paris, all came into a Scotland side in unfamiliar colours, sporting a horrible all maroon and gold kit that, thankfully, hasn’t been on show since.
Despite the euphoria of the past month and the feel good factor generated by the National Team’s form, you sensed that it wasn’t going to be our night having suffered so many hard luck stories over the years.
And so it proved as Scotland never got going in front of a hostile home crowd against a Georgian team playing with no fear knowing their qualification hopes ended long ago.
Just 16 minutes had been played when the hosts took the lead when Levan Mchedidze, one of three 17 year olds making their Georgia debuts, headed home at the near post from a corner.
Other than a snap shot from James McFadden landing on top of the net, Scotland never created a clear cut chance in the game and their fate was sealed on 64 minutes when David Siradze cooly slotted past Craig Gordon from the edge of the box to secure a famous win for the Georgians.
It was a significant blow for Scotland in their quest to reach Austria and Switzerland and, of course, they missed out following defeat to Italy at Hampden the following month.
Eight years on, the Scots go back to Tblisi under similar optimism to end their long wait for a major finals appearance since Craig Brown lead his side to France for the 1998 World Cup Finals.
Whilst our teams, domestically, have failed miserably in European competition, Gordon Strachan has created a sense of optimism again for the Tartan Army following the horrendous regimes of George Burley and Craig Levein, and our results so far have went according to expectation this campaign, with only Poland’s unlikely victory over World Champions Germany upsetting the rhythm.
As things stand, Scotland need three wins from the final four matches to be sure of qualification for France next summer and it’s essential that we get three points on Friday, especially given that our next game is at home to a Germany on Monday.
Despite only acquiring three points from their six matches, Georgia will not be easy opposition and their last outing in Poland showed some improvements in their performance, despite the 4-0 defeat where three of the goals came in injury time.
Scotland will also need to be more clinical than in the previous meeting this campaign where an own goal secured a 1-0 win where several chances were wasted to add to the tally.
Although it will be a tricky trip, Scotland really ought to be coming away with the three points if they are serious about ending their 18 year tournament hoodoo, especially given the fact both Ireland and Poland have left Tblisi with maximum points.
However, given the improvements under Strachan and having a system that is well suited to playing away from home, there is every reason for the Tartan Army to believe that we will lay the ghosts of 2007 firmly to rest and set ourselves up for a frantic finish to the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.