The chatter was about Scotland and the World Cup as a handful of press was shown around the pristine Al-Janoub Stadium in Qatar’s Al-Wakra district last December. The conch-shaped bowl was bathed in winter sunshine and there was optimism in the air.

Standing on the newly turfed centre-circle that day, a couple of months on from hidings at the hands of Belgium and Russia, it felt a bit fatuous, like asking each other which superpower you’d most like to possess in your fingertips. After all, it seemed then as if the likelihood of the latter was more of a possibility than the former.

One leap of faith can sometimes pre-empt another, however. When David Marshall flung himself to his left in a deserted stadium in Belgrade last Thursday, he transformed one dream into a reality and planted the seed for countless others.

If qualification for the World Cup seemed like a fanciful notion 11 months ago inside Al-Janoub, it is no longer a ludicrous proposition. Scotland’s penalty shoot-out win over Serbia has given oxygen to the belief that they can play a part when the World Cup kicks off in Qatar two years from today. That faith has only been tempered slightly by the Nations League losses to Israel and Slovakia that followed. Certainly, for Steve Clarke, qualification for the tournament is what currently occupies his thoughts.

“We don’t want to wait as long for the next one,” he said prior to the Israel game. “In fact, I don’t want to wait very long at all. I want to qualify for Qatar 2022 and so do the players. Maybe as a nation we were guilty of standing still too long – and everybody went past us. We don’t want to lose that momentum. We want to keep going.”

There is ample opportunity to maintain the feel-good factor. The 2022 qualifying draw takes place in Zurich two weeks on Monday, then three qualifiers will have been played by the time the European Championship begins. While UEFA waits for clarity to emerge on whether it will still host its tournament in 12 cities as originally planned, it is not inconceivable that – should Scotland qualify – Qatar might represent the first time the Tartan Army congregates as one at a major tournament since France ’98. At the very least, there is doubt over whether supporters will be allowed to attend games in any significant numbers.

There would be a sense of Scotland’s footballing relationship with Qatar coming full circle. When Qatar suddenly won the ecological lottery, it was flooded with Scottish engineers from the oil and gas industries who brought tales of the beautiful game with them. The legendary Hearts, Tottenham and Scotland midfielder Dave Mackay was manager of the national team for a year in the mid-90s. Today, there are Rangers and Celtic supporters clubs in Doha.

The state remains a destination for expats with very particular skill-sets, but as expansion has grown apace, they have been joined by those from the architectural, marketing and media industries, to name but three. Take the pulse of those expats and they will tell you Qatar is a secure and welcoming place for westerners.

Chris Quinn, a teacher from Hamilton who has lived in Doha for nine years, says: “It’s a good existence, otherwise we wouldn’t have stuck around for so long. It is very, very safe.”

The 43-year-old, his wife Kathleen and two kids, live a 10-minute walk from Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium, which will host the second match of the tournament, and says the possibility of watching Scotland in the country he has made his new home had not occurred to him until last Thursday night.

“You’ve gone through so many years and it has just become normal that Scotland didn’t make it to major tournament finals,” he said. “What was going through my head was how bloody amazing it would be to take my boys to see Scotland playing in the World Cup. I don’t think it will be like every World Cup, like in Europe or North or South America. The local culture requires that you try to be mindful and respectful.”

For frequent travellers to the country there is a similar depth of feeling.

Jim Law, a Scottish app designer who has business links to Qatar, says: “It’s been held up as a state that it is very locked-down, where you are not allowed to do anything and is very unwelcoming, and I think my experience has been the exact opposite. The people are very friendly, very humble, very amenable to helping strangers and meeting new people. As long you act sensibly and responsibly you will have a great time.”

This is the Qatar the rest of the world doesn’t see. The narrative is justifiably dominated by workers’ rights and health and safety concerns around the number of deaths there have been as rapid construction work thunders on. The government is all too aware of this. In September, it brought an end to the kafala system, legislation that tied employees who were required to seek permission from their employers should they wish to seek alternative employment. Further reforms included an increase in the minimum wage.

The winds of change have picked up those seeds and scattered them elsewhere; Saudi Arabia has announced its intention to scrap the system in March 2021.

It is not enough, argue some. Amnesty International has praised Qatar for the reforms but this week pointed out that they will amount to little if the government does not ensure employers enforce them, saying “no one monitors implementation and many workers don’t know the laws”.

Ronnie McDevitt, a founder member of the Scotland Travel Club in 1980 who has been to four World Cups and two European Championships, says he would be undecided over whether to attend – citing, among other factors, his displeasure at the decision to move the finals to winter – should Clarke and his men secure back-to-back qualifications.

“Qatar would be new territory [for me]. I’m not really that fussed about going at the moment but if we qualified I daresay I would feel differently,” says McDevitt, author of four books on Scotland. Whether he would travel or not, McDevitt says he believes the behaviour of Scotland supporters would not be a significant cause for concern.

“I tend to think in those situations, although Scotland fans get away with things, they get away with it because of our good reputation. Some of that, credit where it is due, is down to the SFA. Because, regardless of whether it is a tournament or an ordinary game, they will contact the local authorities in advance of it and say, ‘look, these guys are going to be loud and boisterous but they will not smash the place up’.

"Most people aren’t stupid, they will respect the local customs. If you are going to walk about with a bottle of wine in your hand it’s pretty stupid, really, and I think your mates would say ‘come on, think about it, you’re not back home now’.”

Qatar’s Supreme Committee for delivery and legacy – the World Cup organisers – will be given the chance to measure these challenges when the Euros take place next summer. There will be ongoing dialogue between Qatar security and national police forces about cultural differences, crowd control, stewarding and the rest.

Other questions surround how Qatar will react to the presence of revellers in search of a 24-hour party in its streets, hotel bars and restaurants. Fan zones will cater for the thirsty in and around the games themselves – but it is afterwards that the problems might arise. Drinking alcohol in public is forbidden while trying to find a beer in some of the hotels that operate stricter policies is not always possible. What happens should someone say ‘no’? Is Qatar really ready for a ‘western-style’ party?

The interconnected nature of Qatar will make this a World Cup unlike any other but that could present possible pitfalls, too.

A mere 50-minute drive separates Al-Bayt, the stadium furthest north, from Al-Janoub, in the south. In between comes the rest, a further six stadiums that between them all will host four group matches a day. Look on a map and you get some sense of just how huddled together the venues are. Even for well-established football-hosting countries, it would be a logistical challenge to pull it off, never mind one relatively new to the mass movement of supporters in a confined space.

The Euros will provide a measuring stick, however. Should the Tartan Army descend on Wembley next summer for Scotland’s second Euro 2020 group match against England – the Supreme Committee would be well-advised to keep an eagle’s eye on the policing and event management of that game in particular.