It began with a shiver down the spine.

A rousing, boot-trembling rendition of the national anthem which raised hairs and sent a charge of electricity racing around this huge old bowl on the southside of Glasgow – the likes of which it has not often experienced in all of its years. OK, so it may have fallen flat for a bit as Norway made a nuisance of themselves even though their two posterboys couldn’t bring themselves to turn up for someone else’s party.

And it may even have felt a bit too much like the last day of school where Steve Clarke was concerned. And yet, despite it all, this was Hampden at its very best. Under the lights and in the incessant rain. Exactly the way it is supposed to be. Clarke may have been denied the win he had set out for, to complete a clean sweep of home victories from a qualification campaign which has reconnected a team with its support, while sending out a regular ripple of shockwaves across a previously unsuspecting continent.

Stuart Armstrong of Scotland celebrates after scoring at Hampden
Stuart Armstrong of Scotland celebrates after scoring at Hampden

But the stats make impressive reading nonetheless. That’s three wins from four at the National Stadium with 10 goals scored and only three conceded.

It has been close to immaculate stuff, even if Clarke will not have been happy with the scruffy nature of last night’s defending. And yet it could be reasonably argued, in fact, that Scotland’s results and performances on the road across this campaign have been almost as impressive as their near-faultless form on home soil.

Home might be where the heart is. But this lot don’t mind a bit of playing away either. It was that dramatic late win against the Norwegians in Oslo in June which more or less eliminated Erling Haaland before the group was even properly up and running.

When Lyndon Dykes pounced to bag an equaliser three minutes from time, it felt like quite a moment. So when Kenny McLean rapped home the winner two minutes later, our biggest rival for the runners-up spot was effectively knocked out on its feet. Perhaps, on reflection, this was a coming-of-age victory for Clarke and his players because it cemented their credentials as one of the most upwardly mobile national sides anywhere across the continent.

And it is with that status – as the hottest emerging ticket in town – that they will travel to Germany next summer looking to go one step further than any Scotland side in history. That away win was followed up by a canter against Cyprus just when Scotland were supposed to start wobbling, looking down from such a lofty position.

It was hot and sweaty but Clarke and his players looked completely unruffled by the conditions or the prospect of letting qualification escape them over the closing stages. Instead, Scott McTominay scored within six minutes, Ryan Porteous doubled the lead and John McGinn added a third on the half-hour mark.

Scott McTominay celebrates after making it 1-0 during a UEFA Euro 2024 qualifier between Cyprus and Scotland at the AEK Arena

It was all so business-like that it almost took the breath away. Observing Scotland is simply not supposed to be as stress-free. Yes, there was the disappointment of a 2-0 defeat to Spain but, even then, Clarke and his players were on the verge of a sensational and historic result when McTominay lashed a free-kick into the roof of Unai Simon’s net in the second half.

That VAR found a way to expunge that goal from the record books felt like rough justice at the time, as did the two Spanish goals which followed soon after. But, although bruised by it all, Scotland left with their dignity and belief intact even if there was a gnawing sense that something was not quite right with the manner in which McTominay was denied his golden moment.

The more you see of the way the game’s top officials operate, it’s more and more difficult not to at least wonder if some of them may have been compromised in some way. Take last week in Tbilisi, for example, where Clarke completed the schedule away from home with a point against Georgia, when Lawrence Shankland poached a priceless equaliser in injury time.

Willy Sagnol’s side had been at it from the start. Swarming around the officials, throwing themselves to the ground – and their behaviour became even worse in the second half as they closed in on a 2-1 win while also running out of legs.

As bad as it was, Clarke’s cool-headed Scots refused to let it distract them. Instead, they sharpened their focus and were soon speeding off to the airport with another Group A point safely in the bag from the longest road trip of the lot.

In total, Clarke and his players plundered seven points from a possible 12 away from home in this qualification campaign. And that’s the kind of numbers which add substance and weight to the theory that they might be capable of doing something special when they get back on the plane to Germany next summer.

They may have been a little wet behind the ears at the last tournament but the experience – as disappointing as it may have been – will have served them well.

Just 18 months on, they can now be considered seasoned travellers. And that may help them travel a whole lot deeper into these finals than many might expect. As the T-shirts said on last night’s lap of honour, they’re off to Germany. Who knows, that might be just the start of it.