In the aftermath of a celebratory night at Hampden, the Tartan Army retreated to adopt again the traditional motto of Scottish football fans: "If only . . ."
Gordon Strachan, standing with a cup of tea in his hand in the echoing recesses of Hampden, also carried that hint of what-might-have-been after the 2-0 defeat of Croatia left Scotland yet again adrift in a qualifying campaign. "I look at the first couple of games, and I look at Wales in particular, and we were 1-0 up and a decision, a decision, cost Scotland the game," said Strachan emphasising the singularity of Scotland being denied a valid goal when 1-0 up in a match they went on to lose. "And it could have been all different."
Indeed, but Wales could argue that they should have had a penalty in Cardiff, Croatia could point out that they had the best of chances when they lost in Zagreb and Serbia had excellent opportunities in the opening draw at Hampden.
Tuesday was a forgiveably intoxicating evening but the sober truth is that after a turbulent campaign Scotland finished fourth, precisely their seeded position before a ball was kicked. The reality is that the mini league table revealed Strachan's side in all their frailty and in some of their strength. The manager was careful not to make grandiose statements after his team grew into a performance, shrugging off early Croatian dominance to win with a surprising comfort.
He played down prospects of a surge going into the qualification group for Euro 2016. "It's a long way off," he said. "You enjoy this, and I hope the players go back and go: 'I liked that, we got a bit of praise'."
He said that as a club manager he had to deal with players returning after a bad result for their respective national sides. "At international level there's a lot of scrutiny, and sometimes it's not easy to take. And you have to deal with that and bring them back up," he said.
Strachan agreed his squad had been "through a lot", but added: "Confidence comes from winning games. And being in the dressing-room after it where they celebrate together as a group."
They have also worked hard on the training field. Strachan has instigated two sessions a day with organisation at the top of the agenda. This may have misfired when England plundered set-piece goals at Wembley but there was a shape and a discipline to the team on Tuesday. "I'm never confident, unless I know I've worked with the team, to go on to the pitch," he said. Crucially, he added: "We do not have world-class players. We have a group of players that can win games, that's for sure. [Luka] Modric was still magnificent. Magnificent. But the team beat him. The team didn't allow him to be on the winning side."
Strachan now faces a run-up of almost a year until his next competitive game, though the USA visit next month. He will spend the next few weeks assessing fringe players but the success of a long-term strategy has several variables, many of them outside the manager's remit. The only chance of Scotland having a world-class player in time for the first qualifying match is if he comes in on a direct flight from Planet Krypton.
Strachan knows, though, that his squad will be strengthened by the return of Steven Fletcher, James Forrest, Darren Fletcher and Shaun Maloney. He will be heartened, too, by the progress of Robert Snodgrass, Steven Naismith and Russell Martin. Ikechi Anya is a bonus, with his pace and direct style mesmerising Macedonia and drawing the penalty against Croatia.
The manager and his staff will have a hard look at the downside, though. Charlie Mulgrew's surging run and excellent cross brought the first goal on Tuesday but he is much better suited to a midfield role than at left-back. Lee Wallace of Rangers and the Steven Whittaker of Norwich City must be considered for the full-back roles, particularly as Alan Hutton continues his absence from first-team football.
The central defence also has its problems. Strachan praised Grant Hanley of Blackburn Rovers after the match but the centre-half, for all his attributes of power and effort, still makes serious mistakes. There will be those who insist that all will be well when Gary Caldwell of Wigan Athletic returns from injury. They do not include this observer, who recalls a succession of errors from a defender whose faith in his ability to play the ball out is regularly confounded by careless passing.
Strachan has given his squad direction and purpose and has been rewarded in his decisions to pick those such as Snodgrass, Martin and Anya. He knows there are others on the vine, most notably Craig Bryson of Derby County, who impressed the manager in training.
But there are limits to the power of a national manager with restricted resources. Strachan has to invest in hard work, hope for healthy players, pray for a group that is more hospitable than Group A, and trust that the confidence grows among a squad of players with a good work ethic and a pedigree of playing regularly against the best in the Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.
Strachan will not adopt the role of saviour. Would it all have been different if he had been installed earlier after the disastrous start by Craig Levein? "You never know. I can not tell. I really can't tell you that. It would be unfair, to me, to comment on that as well," he said.
There was decency in this but wisdom too. The fate of managers is a curious business. Strachan, feted as a hero, now prepares for a friendly. Igor Stimac, decried as a villain, has taken Croatia to the play-off berth but has been sacked.