City keeper David Marshall was this morning looking forward to the weekend of his international life as Scotland prepare to play host to world champions Italy in a winner-takes-all Euro2008 showdown at the top of Group B.
For while England might have wholly underwhelmed in their own qualifying campaign and are left looking for Israel to pull a massive rabbit out of the hat, Scotland have proved something of an irresistible force under new boss Alex McLeish.
Home and away wins over France have put the Scots in the box seat going into this week's final qualifying games. Beat Italy at Hampden Park and they're there – even a draw could prove enough if France then stumble in their final game against Ukraine.
And with the Tartan Army already warming up in the background ahead of one of the biggest weekends of football in Glasgow in recent memory, so the Canary No1 – restored to the Scotland senior squad on the back of his stirring Norwich performances – is clearly having a ball.
“Everybody's very positive in the camp – it's great,” said the 22-year-old, speaking from the Scotland training camp yesterday.
“I think beating France home and away means the lads have got a lot of confidence and everyone feels that we've got a good chance.”
Who blinks first could decide the outcome of the match – will Scotland rise to the Tartan Army's roar? Will the Italians wilt in the face of the ferocious Hampden hordes?
“I think the first 10, 15 minutes are going to be crucial,” said Marshall, likely to start the game on the bench behind Sunderland's ?9 million keeper, Craig Gordon.
“I think whoever can score first – that's going to be important. And if we get a draw then France can still slip up but we don't want to be relying on that.
“It's up to us – if we do our job its in our own hands.”
The war of words between the two camps was already hotting up with AC Milan star Massimo Ambrosini telling uefa.com that the world champions were not going to Scotland looking to nick a point – whatever the French might claim.
Italy end their qualification campaign against the Faroe Islands. That contest is, in fairness, taken as a given. All eyes are on Glasgow. Nowhere else.
“We are not going there to draw,” said the 30-year-old, one of six Milan players in the Italian squad.
Given that AC Milan lost 2-1 to Celtic in the Champions League last month, Ambrosini and Co at least knows what awaits on the crowd-front.
“Almost every supporter at Hampden Park will be rooting for Scotland – they will sing from the first minute to the last,” said Ambrosini.
“However, I like to hear the fans; I like to hear the audience around me,” he insisted. “What I'm more concerned about is the fact that they usually get great results at home. But it's not right to say that I'm scared – we respect Scotland, but we are not scared at all.”
Back on Glasgow and Marshall was urging the Tartan Army on.
“I know that Italy are the world champions, but they're only human,” said the 22-year-old keeper.
“Because the crowd's awesome and they can really put them under a bit of pressure and maybe unnerve them like they did in the Ukraine game.”
Marshall clearly senses a new mood north of the border as Scotland close in on their first qualification for a major tournament for a generation. The fact that both Celtic and Rangers are making a better fist of the Champions League these days helps build that 'big game' mentality into the next generation of Hampden heroes.
“Obviously under the last manager Berti Vogts things didn't go so well,” said Marshall, who having been left in the shadows at celtic Park by the form of Polish No1 Artur Boruc has now seen his international ambitions revived by last summer's ?1 million move south.
McLeish's arrival at the international helm has also helped his cause as Bryan Gunn's long-time pal turns to the next generation of Scottish youngsters with rather more success than his German predecessor.
“People like Craig Gordon, James McFadden and Darren Fletcher have all come in and done great. And the fact that Celtic and Rangers have been doing so well in the Champions League can only help too,” said Marshall.
“The fact that Celtic beat AC Milan last week gives the Celtic boys even more confidence. It means that they're well up for it – they really think that they can now go on and win it.”
It is, of course, all a million miles away from the situation at Carrow Road where just about the reverse is true of Marshall's day-to-day employers.
“It's been tough down at Norwich,” admitted the one-time Celtic starlet, who continues to look one of Peter Grant's better pieces of business.
At least one part of Glenn Roeder's future spine is in place as the new City boss continues to scour the land for the kind of loan signings that can dig the stricken Norfolk club out of some big, big trouble.
“It's a big game for us now against Coventry if we want to start moving away from the bottom, so hopefully we can get a good win under our belts and then kick on from there.”
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