Scott McTominay scored twice when Scotland beat Cyprus 3-0 at Hampden in MarchScott McTominay scored twice when Scotland beat Cyprus 3-0 at Hampden in MarchEuro 2024 qualifier: Cyprus v Scotland

Venue: AEK Arena, Larnaca Date: Friday, 8 September Time: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Follow live on the BBC Sport website & app, listen on BBC Sounds & watch highlights on BBC Scotland

Scotland are looking to take a huge stride towards back-to-back appearances at European Championship finals as their astonishing qualifying campaign resumes.

They face Group A bottom side Cyprus on Friday in what could be a seminal week, with a place in the Euro 2024 finals a distinct possibility during this camp.

Contemplating that on arriving in Larnaca, I am reminded of 10 October 2019. It is a date burned in the mind and two quotes stick out.

That evening, former international striker Steven Thompson told the Sportscene audience that Scotland were “miles short” at international level.

The other was from head coach Steve Clarke, who said: “We must make sure that this is the lowest of the low.”

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They were discussing a 4-0 World Cup qualification hammering by Russia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

It was a second pounding by that scoreline in as many matches, having succumbed to Belgium the previous month - and came during the turbulent infancy of the Clarke era.

The turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular.

Less than four years later, the man in charge has led them to Euro 2020 and now his team has racked up an historic four wins on the bounce at the start of a campaign, including a 2-0 victory over top-seeded Spain.

At the halfway stage, it would appear more difficult not to qualify for the showpiece in Germany.

Not that you’ll find Clarke saying that.

His Scotland side aim to extend their perfect record to five wins here in the eastern Mediterranean against the pointless Cypriots.

Watch out for Cyprus wingers

Marinos TzionisMarinos Tzionis plays in Major League Soccer with Sporting Kansas City

Ranked 118th in the world, Cyprus’ wait for a first appearance at a major finals will continue as they try to throw a spanner in the Scots’ hopes of progression.

However, this is a side that has won just four of its past 30 competitive matches - two of its past 16 European Championship qualifiers on the island - and lost all eight of the previous meetings with Scotland.

Temuri Ketsbaia’s team don’t come without threat though. In AIK striker Ioannis Pittas, Omonia’s Loizos Loizou and fellow winger Marinos Tzionis of Sporting Kansas City, they have threats right across the frontline.

At the back, they have Alex Gogic, who is having a superb season at St Mirren, while their likely starting goalkeeper, Joel Mall, performed brilliantly in the Champions League qualifiers for Servette, impressing in both legs against Rangers. Just ask Sam Lammers, who was denied by a world-class save in Glasgow.

In their three matches so far in Group A, they can count themselves unfortunate to have lost 2-1 to Georgia, who capitalised on a Gogic error for their first goal, before a late strike denied the Cypriots a point.

They had no answer to Erling Haaland, who scored twice and set the other up as Norway beat them 3-1 in Oslo - just days after Scotland’s incredible victory there. They have yet to face Spain, although they will during this international window.

Following defeat by Georgia, Ketsbaia criticised home fans for not turning out in greater numbers. They were outnumbered by visiting supporters, so it seems there is an apathy about international football on the island.

Close encounters on previous visits

Ketsbaia, who worked under Clarke and assistant John Carver at Newcastle United and spent a season at Dundee during the big-spending Ivano Bonetti days, was in bullish mood ahead of the sides’ Hampden date in March.

However, two late Scott McTominay goals beefed up the scoreline as the Scots ran out 3-0 winners on matchday one, with John McGinn scoring the other.

Meetings in Cyprus, however, have historically been tighter, including Scotland’s last visit soon after that mauling in Moscow, when Ryan Christie and McGinn scored in a 2-1 victory.

Declan Gallagher and Liam Palmer were in the back four, while Steven Naismith led the line, underlining the difference in personnel in a relatively short space of time.

Richard Gough’s stoppage-time winner in Limassol earned a 3-2 success in February 1989, a result that proved crucial to Andy Roxburgh leading the team to the World Cup in Italy. So even that team of serial qualifiers were made to work for it.

One of the biggest problems could be the heat, with the temperature likely to be around 30 degrees Celsius at kick-off.

Another Clarke quote that rings loudly is one he uttered in the wake of the goalless draw in Krakow against Ukraine a year ago as he led Scotland to top spot in their Nations League section and, with it, a guaranteed Euro 2024 play-off.

When asked about the insurance of having that in the bank, he said: “I don’t think, with this group of players, we’ll need it.”

Turns out he could be right - and with three games to spare.

Pick your Scotland XI to face Cyprus

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