The latest generation of Caledonian supporters, sustained by gulps of beef extract and pies of suspicious provenance, must travel home after an afternoon spent routinely in Arctic conditions and then feast their eyes on how it all should be played, how it all could have been for Scotland and how far it all is from home.
The precision pictures from grounds in Spain – most regularly Nou Camp in Barcelona and the Bernabeu in Madrid – regularly delight, sometimes tantalise and almost always leave an aftertaste of dissatisfaction with the domestic product. The last emotion is unreasonable but understandable. Scotland gave football to the world. Most specifically, Scotland gave its style of football to Spain. The coverage of the brilliance of La Liga is akin to inventing electricity and being rewarded by being touched by a cattle prod every Saturday and Sunday night.
Jimmy Burns, in his elegant, informative but occasionally slow-paced journey through Spanish football, gives due credit to the origins of that nation's football in identifying the British workers who brought the game to the Rio Tinto works in Andalucia.
But it is a 1920s coach who reveals the full influence of the Caledonian style. In changing his team to a more long-ball, physical outfit, he says: "The patient, slow game of short passing is elegant to watch – but totally impractical, Scots-style."
This "Scots-style", albeit infused with extraordinary pace, is what has driven Spain to World Cup success and Barcelona to become the best club side in the world. It is now referred to as tiki-taka.
Cruelly, a sublime example of its style and potency can be found in David Silva's goal in an international match in Alicante in October 2011. It involved 42 passes, all 11 Spanish players touched the ball in the move and it spanned 94 mesmerising seconds before the ball hit the back of the net. Inevitably, it was the Scottish net.
This Spanish journey from football apprentice of the early 20th century to master of the new millennium forms the spine of Burns's book, but its heart and soul are more concerned with identity, politics and philosophy. In Spain these three elements can regularly be indistinguishable.
Football is a window that provides light on the mysteries of Spain but also allows the reader to peer at the darkness. Burns, who has a Spanish mother, is quietly assured on the characteristics of the competing Basques, Catalans, Castillians and Andalucians who form the ethos of Spanish football. He is powerful, too, in his examination of the civil war that was desperately brutal and shaped not only the subsequent nation but the footballing landscape. It is well-known how Real Madrid became known as General Franco's "works team" but Burns, a Barcelona fan, is commendably clear-eyed in dealing with such emotional matters.
The book is a series of short essays laced delicately together like a Barcelona passing move. There are times when the reader can be forgiven for demanding more pace but there are regular glimmers of excellence. The passages on Alfredo Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff, Helenio Herrera and Vicente Del Bosque are brilliant. Burns, too, has the capacity for sound judgment and an ear for the wonderful Spanish phrase which he translates with felicity. One coach's verdict that a great player "smelled of good football" is a typically Spanish toast to the intoxicating nature of the game.
The politics of Spain are still reflected through its teams. The forces of Catalan independence are identified with Barcelona, whose president, Josep Sunyol, was shot and dumped in an unmarked grave by Franco supporters during the civil war. The opposite side – the Republicans – just failed to execute Santiago Bernabeu, who later played such a huge part in the rise of Real Madrid, gave his name to the club's stadium and made sure the team was identified with the establishment. Athletic Bilbao are a huge part of Basque identity. Other sides carry the reputation of being working-class, extremely right-wing or significant socially.
They all now form part of the sexiest football nation in the world. Barca is the buzzword for football chic, Real is the shorthand for almost impossible glamour and Spain are champions of the world. Burns reflects on all this with an easy familiarity, but his work could have done with more of La Furia that marks the passion of the Spanish side. La Roja, the nickname of the Spanish national team, may have been better with a taste of Rioja; that is, an element of an earthy, intemperate intoxication.
Instead, Burns makes his sober judgments persuasively. It remains only to quibble with his prediction of continued success for Spain and its club sides. Barca faltered in this year's Champions League and the national side may reasonably encounter a team that can beat it in the European Championships in the summer. It will not be Scotland. As the best in Europe plays, we can only nurse our lost history to keep it warm.
La Roja: A Journey Through Spanish Football
Simon and Schuster £18.99