An eternal optimist supporting the Scotland football team can be a bit like an unstoppable force coming up against an immovable object. Once again, it looks grim for the long-suffering Tartan Army fan as another major tournament looks set to pass us by without participation.

The big one is of course the World Cup in 2014, in Brazil no less, but qualification to Euro2012 would be nice. Sadly, one injury time dive by a Czech substitute has robbed us of that chance.

Or has it?

Until qualification is mathematically impossible (and it’s a judgment call whether one should entertain the possibility of a points deduction for crowd trouble), I maintain hope should always remain high, if not expectation.

I’ve been here before of course – confident that a win against Holland would see Scotland into World Cup 2010 but despite an excellent performance, we lost out once more.

So, undeterred, and despite Scotland having as many points as a team that’s lost and drawn with Liechtenstein (who themsleves are only 1 point behind us), I thought I would spell out what would have to happen in order for Scotland to finish second in our Group.

Current Table:
Spain – 15pts (GD +10)
Czech R – 10pts (GD +3)
Scotland – 5pts (GD -1)
Lithuania – 5pts (GD -5)
Liechtenstein – 4pts (GD -7)

Requirement: Scotland needs to finish 2nd and ahead of the Czech Republic on points in order to make the play-offs (as head-to-head games are taken into account when teams finish on the same points – thanks to Niall S in the comments for that one!).

The 2nd place team across the groups with the highest points will qualify automatically. This won’t be Scotland, but one the remaining eight teams could be, and here’s how:

6th September
Scotland vs Lithuania

A big win required for Scotland here with lots of goals. If it’s unlikely that we’ll match the Czechs on points then it’s nigh on impossible that we’ll beat them on points so a superior goal difference is required. This is our only remaining home game and it’s against a despondent team that just drew 1-1 with the minnows of the group. We need to thump them 3-0 at least.

Spain vs Liechtenstein
It’s going to be nothing other than a horsing here and, although we want Spain to slip up in order to not have qualified when they face the Czechs in the next game, it’s not going to happen. 5-0 is my expectation with a large margin of error. The silver lining is that a Spanish win means that it will be the reserves/U19s against Scotland in the last game. Note of course that “the reserves” includes the likes of Fabregas.

7th October
Czech Republic vs Spain

It could be all over for Scotland here and, realistically, Spain will have qualified as group winners by now so there is a risk that the Czechs will have an easier game than Scotland had at Hampden. The tartan army can only hope that Spain are too silky, too good and run out as winners 0-1 or so.

8th October
Liechtenstein vs Scotland

If the above results fall into place, then a win by any margin here would suffice for Scotland to have 2nd place in their reach. 0-2 is surely (surely!) a conservative estimate.

11th October
Lithuania vs Czech Republic

This could be Scotland’s last chance. Any team requiring to beat Lithuania in order to qualify for a major tournament should be able to do it, but Scotland may need a draw here when this game comes around or, if results haven’t gone as planned earlier, even a win for the home team. Equally, Scotland’s fate may be in our own hands in the game below. It’s not entirely out of the question so let’s cross our fingers and hope it’ll be a home win or a draw but let’s say, safety first, that the Czechs win 0-1.

Spain vs Scotland
Feeling lucky? On paper there’s only one winner here and it’s a bit rich of me to suggest that Scotland will get an easier ride in Madrid while simultaneously suggesting that the Czechs won’t beat the same weaker Spain side in Prague. My back’s against the wall though. There’s a good chance that Scotland can’t qualify unless they beat Spain, that’s certainly the scenario I’ve painted in the above. However, and this is where our hopes ultimately rest, if Scotland do manage to still have a chance at kick-off, they have a history of over-performing in such situations (witness luckless performances against Netherlands and Italy in recent years). A stubborn draw could be enough if earlier results go our way and a plucky win isn’t out of the question. Let’s summon the spirit of the Paris 40-yarder, of Gary Caldwell’s Hampden tap-in and James MacFadden’s ricocheted Euro2004 winner against Holland and say 0-1 is the score.

Final table under above circumstances:
Spain – 21pts (GD +15)
Scotland – 14pts (GD +5)
Czech R – 13pts (GD +3)
Lithuania – 5pts (GD -9)
Liechtenstein – 4pts (GD -14)

Contrived? Of course. The margin for error is slim but we don’t need to give up just yet. Even a draw against Spain would be enough if the Czechs fail to beat Lithuania away.

I will not be putting any money on Scotland qualifying though, as much as I still hope that they can get through. A draw against Spain and a win against Lithuania isn’t too much of an ask for a team that was so impressive when visiting Hampden on Saturday and recently made the Quarter Finals of the World Cup.

Indeed, if you ask me where Scotland lost out on this group? It would have to be the baffling 4-6-0 against the Czech Republic last year – a sleekit, cowrin’, timrous, panic-in-the-breastie lineup if ever there was one.

Let’s hope we’re a bit more ambitious for World Cup qualifying, and in Ukraine 2012 when/if we qualify….