AS he replayed the events of the night before at Hampden in his mind yesterday, Ian Maxwell was unable to shake the sense of disappointment and disbelief being felt by so many.

Maxwell may be the Scottish FA chief executive – but first and foremost he is a Scotland supporter.

So the memory of the painful 3-1 defeat to Russia 2018 finalists Croatia that dashed the national team’s hopes of progressing to the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time in their history still stung.

Yet, there was also excitement and optimism for the future – of this Scotland side and football in this country in general – in amongst the despair at the cruel exit from Euro 2020.

The man responsible for overseeing the fortunes of both has endured a challenging 15 months due to the far-reaching repercussions the Covid-19 pandemic has had for the sport here from grassroots to professional level.

He is, though, confident that better times lie ahead at every level of the game as a direct result of Scotland’s involvement in their first finals in 23 years.

The former Queen’s Park, Ross County, St Johnstone, St Mirren and Partick Thistle defender is certain that this group of players, who launched their bid to reach Qatar 2022 with two draws and a victory back in March, will not have to wait long to return to such a stage.

“The heartening thing for me was that when you listened to the manager and players after the game it wasn’t a case of ‘it was great just to be here’,” said Maxwell. “It was more a case of ‘now we’ve been here and had a taste of it, we want to come back as soon as possible’.

“I definitely sensed a determination from the players and manager to build on this. They don’t want it just to be an experience to look back on nostalgically years from now. 

“Now we’ve been here, progress is doing it again soon. The players want to get to major tournaments and now they’ve had a taste of what that means in international football. 

“Don’t forget, only 20 months ago we were losing heavily to Belgium and Russia. The challenge now is to use the experience, the education of tournament football, to qualify again for the World Cup in 28 months’ time.” 

He continued: “It will be difficult, but this is a youthful group who will benefit greatly from this. We have a group of players with more tournaments in them. 

“You look at (Billy) Gilmour, (David) Turnbull and (Nathan) Patterson coming in. (Kieran) Tierney is a young guy as well. We have a group of players who have three or four tournament qualifications in them over their career. 

“Look at the Croatian team last night. You have Modric with 130 odd caps, Perisic with over 100, Vida has over 80, Lovren is on 60, Kovacic on 60 plus Brozovic has over 50. They are probably at the other end of the scale where they need to look at having younger ones coming through now because some are getting older. 

“I’ve spoken before about the Northern Ireland squad who qualified from their group at Euro 2016. They had a group of players who all had 50 or 60 caps under their belt by the time they got to that tournament. There is no substitute for that experience. 

“We have never had players who have gone into a game like last night who have been there before. But the only way you get it is by putting yourself back in that position. We’ll be better prepared with more experience and understand how tournament football works.”

Maxwell is also hopeful that seeing Scotland involved at Euro 2020 this month will also inspire children across the country to play and be directly responsible for producing a few stars of tomorrow. He has been encouraged by the impact the finals have had.

“The engagement this has given the country has been incredible and from an association perspective we have to build on that,” he said.  

“The buy-in we have had, the kits we have sold, the numbers at fanzones and the number of kids watching games at school, wearing Scotland shirts and talking about football as part of their lessons has been remarkable. 

“On the back of the success of the women’s national team (who qualified for the European Championships in 2017 and the World Cup in 2019) it fuels the dreams of the future generations and that is priceless. 

“That’s what happens when we have successful national teams: qualifying for major tournaments makes us all feel a bit more aspirational and positive, not least during a pandemic that has changed everyday life as we knew it.” 

Scotland will return to action in September when they play Denmark in Copenhagen, Moldova in Glasgow and Austria in Vienna in World Cup qualifiers. Maxwell anticipates the feelgood factor from their participation in Euro 2020 will still be present and they will be backed by large numbers.

“I would love to think that the engagement we have had with the national team will continue into those matches,” he said.  

“Off the back of the government announcement and the restrictions easing, I hope we can get a good number of fans into the stadium and start to see Hampden being full again with people who want to come and see the national team because they are playing well. 

“That’s the aim and I hope the positivity of the last month rubs off when World Cup qualifiers in September, October and November come around.”

“Coming into the tournament what did we want to do? We wanted to get out the group. We put ourselves in the position to do it and we fell short. That’s the incentive for all of us. To go one better next time and not wait as long for the opportunity.”