Manager Alex McLeish has vowed to keep trying to make amends for Scotland’s shock defeat in Kazakhstan – and claims there will be twists and turns in their European Championship qualifying group.
McLeish and his players have come under fire after a 3-0 loss against the world’s 117th-ranked team in their opening Group I encounter, with their chances of automatic qualification already written off in many quarters.
Scotland have only once reached a major tournament after losing their opening qualifier, when they recovered from defeat against then European champions Czechoslovakia to make the 1978 World Cup.
Nations League success has earned Scotland a guaranteed play-off place should they fail to finish in the top two of a group also containing Belgium, Russia, Cyprus and San Marino, who host McLeish’s men on Sunday.
But McLeish is determined to make it up the supporters bit by bit and not wait until next year’s Nations League resumption.
“The only apology we can give the fans is to go out and win the next game,” he said.
“We are all hurting. We’re fans as well. I followed the team as a young man and I was always proud to wear the jersey. And these guys are as well.
“They don’t mean to play badly. They don’t mean to have one off night. In recent months they have shown some great skills, some great results, and we just need to continue with a little bit of continuity in terms of selection of the squad.
“We just have to concentrate on winning the next game, and if we can do that, we try and win the game after that.
“It’s the first game. We know it’s hugely disappointing for the Scottish nation and we are gutted as well. I don’t like losing. It’s not a great feeling, believe me.
“We have to believe the group stage is going to have twists and turns. We know there’s a clear favourite but we think there will be blips along the way.”
McLeish has Andy Robertson, Callum Paterson and Ryan Fraser available after they missed the Kazakhstan game – the Liverpool left-back with a dental problem and the latter two because of an agreement that they would not play on the artificial pitch.
And the Scotland boss is determined to focus on the future rather than pore over their humbling in the Astana Arena.
“We didn’t have a debrief per se,” the 60-year-old said. “Obviously the lads are hurting by the result, because people expected us just to turn up and win. We know football is a little bit different to those kinds of expectations but you have to be at your best and we weren’t at our best, and we admit that.
“They knew. And it’s a very quick turnover in terms of the two games. We travelled seven or eight hours on Friday so in terms of the turnover, it’s difficult to dwell on something that was very negative while we can get ourselves immersed in the future and the next game.”
McLeish was even less willing to reflect in his pre-match media conference on what people are calling Scotland’s worst result.
“I have not thought about that,” he said. “The only thing I am thinking about is the game tomorrow night. I’m not a dweller on history, so I look forward to the next game.”
When asked whether he would expect to still be in his position if Scotland did not beat San Marino, he said: “I don’t deal with speculative issues and speculative questions. We just prepare the very best with the squad we have and we look to the guys to perform to their top level.”