Spain and Barcelona legend Xavi has insisted that the World Cup is a poorer competition without Scotland, with Gordon Strachan’s side already facing an uphill battle to qualify for the competition in 2018.
Scotland opened their qualifying campaign with an encouraging 5-1 victory away to Malta, but followed that up with a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania on Saturday night.
The Scots haven’t qualified for any major tournament since the World Cup in 1998 and now face a stern test against Slovakia on Tuesday – with a defeat likely to leave their campaign in ruins.
Xavi was an integral cog of the slick Spanish side which became world champions in 2010 in South Africa, and speaking via The Sun, the veteran midfielder said: “I grew up with Scotland at major tournaments. It is sad for the country that it has been so long since they were there.
“We played Scotland at Hampden a few years ago but I wasn’t playing. I was injured but I remember it was a fantastic game.
“As a kid I’d watch them play and I feel real sympathy for the fans and for the players that they are not there.
“Everyone loves Scotland. In Spain everyone loves Real Betis because of their supporters — and Scotland is the same.
“I would love to see them make it back to a major tournament in 2018. The fans and the players are so passionate about the game.
“We have missed them at these tournaments and hopefully they are back sooner than later.”
The 36-year-old now plays for Al Sadd in Qatar but is synonymous with Barcelona, where he faced Scottish champions Celtic several times in the Champions League.
He added: “From every game I played at Celtic I remember the amazing atmosphere. The noise is incredible and it’s one of my favourite places to play.
“The fans are so passionate and push the team from the first moment. They are intense, so loud and encouraging for the Celtic players.
“We lost that night because we made mistakes but also because Celtic played very well.
“It was a hard game from the very beginning but it was still a good experience because it was such an amazing atmosphere.
“It’s an atmosphere that makes a difference to the Celtic players. It makes them better as opposed to other teams worse. It affected them in a really positive way.
“Speaking for the Barcelona players, it doesn’t affect our mentality in a negative way. We were all used to playing in big games, so it didn’t distract us. We enjoyed playing in that environment.
“But the supporters really make a difference for the Celtic players.
“Everyone knows there is a saying that supporters can be the extra man but it’s really true in this instance.”
What do you think of his comments? Are Scotland already on the verge of not being able to qualify for Russia? Or is there still life left in this campaign yet?
Also, how impressive is it that a man of Xavi’s stature has such positive things to say about Scottish football?