THE upcoming week will be a momentous one for Scotland’s European representatives. With the final qualifying rounds for each of the three continental competitions scheduled in the coming days, the three Scottish teams remaining – Celtic, Rangers and Hearts – will discover their destinies, one way or the other.

Celtic, of course, have had their place in the group stages of the Champions League assured for quite some time now, thanks to the Premiership’s improved coefficient – a coefficient that has been boosted more by Rangers’ run to the Europa League final last season than anything else, as fate would have it. By being crowned champions last term, Ange Postecoglou and his players can watch on from home, safe in the knowledge that the often-perilous qualifiers don’t have to be negotiated this time around.

With automatic qualification, though, comes an increase in expectations. There was plenty to admire about Postecoglou’s debut campaign in Glasgow’s east end but one black mark against his team was their performances in the continental arena. They exited the Champions League fairly early on in the qualifying process last summer when they were knocked out by Denmark’s Midtjylland; finished third in their Europa League group containing Real Betis, Bayer Leverkusen and Ferencvaros; and finally, in February, were dumped out of the Conference League by Norwegian champions Bodo/Glimt.

There are degrees of mitigation that can be applied to each of the eliminations. Against Midtjylland, many players were still coming and going and Postecoglou was barely in the door himself. The squad had not settled and was still getting to grips with the new manager’s style of play. In the Europa League, there is no doubt that Celtic landed a tough draw with two heavy-hitters in their group. Bodo/Glimt, meanwhile, are a better team than many expected, as evidenced by their run to the quarter-finals where they were eliminated by the Conference League’s eventual winners, Roma.

There was a feeling last season amongst the Celtic support that performances in Europe were of secondary importance. The priority, as a sizeable chunk of the fanbase saw it, was the team re-establishing their domestic dominance and reclaiming their Premiership crown. Now that those goals have been achieved, thoughts will naturally turn to bigger and better things this year.

This will be Celtic’s first appearance in the Champions League proper in five years and although much has changed in that time, the main concern facing the champions in Europe is eerily similar. Back then, Brendan Rodgers received his fair share of flak for sticking rigidly to his tactical outlook, regardless of the calibre of opposition. It resulted in two of the heaviest defeats in Celtic’s history, home and away to Paris Saint-Germain (12-1 on aggregate), and the Northern Irishman was labelled as an idealist.

Postecoglou, too, is wedded to a particular style of play and is unlikely to deviate too much from his team’s fundamental principles. There is a lot to be said for a pragmatic approach on the continent but it’s not something supporters are likely to see on the Greek-Australian’s watch. His high-risk, high-reward style often blows away Scottish opponents but whether such a ploy can undo a more sophisticated team once the stakes have been significantly raised remains to be seen. Competing against the big boys and securing European football post-Christmas would represent significant progress for Celtic in Europe. They will be seeded fourth in the draw and a challenging group is a certainty.

If Rangers are to join their rivals at European football’s top table, then they will have to earn their seat the hard way. A trip to Eindhoven awaits on Tuesday night, when Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side will be looking to advance to the group stages at the expense of PSV. The Dutch giants were held to a 2-2 draw at Ibrox last week and although the task facing the men from Govan is sizeable, they remain in with a real chance of making it through the tie. After their European heroics last season, only a fool would write off their chances.

Qualification for the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition would be an important milestone for Rangers to hit – both in terms of the financial rewards on offer, and the prestige associated with mixing it with the continent’s greatest teams. The run to Seville generated tens of millions of pounds and progression to the next round on Tuesday night would do the same. The prize money and television revenue on offer would be a game-changer for the Glasgow club, and would go a long way to realising the club’s ambition of becoming financially self-sustaining.

As well as the boost to club coffers, though, there is also the grandure of a return to the Champions League. Rangers’ year-on-year progression in Europe over the last few seasons has been remarkable and a return to Europe’s top table is the next logical step for the club to take. Like Celtic, the club’s seeding would lead to a difficult group.

Van Bronckhorst’s side will fancy their chances in The Netherlands but should they fall at the final hurdle, they can at least console themselves with a place in the Europa League, where experience tells us that the Premiership runners-up can go on to make a real dent in the competition. Rangers, too, would be a top-seeded team if they drop into Europe’s secondary club competition. But after the results of the past few years and last season’s run to the final, the team and supporters alike will be understandably setting their sights a little higher.

The Champions League draw will take place on Thursday evening, while the Europa League and Conference League will follow suit on Friday. Celtic will definitely be involved in Thursday’s proceedings and Rangers will be hoping to be there too, while – perhaps unusually – a third Scottish team will be in the hat for Friday’s draws.

Hearts are the first Scottish team outside the Old Firm to reach the group stage of a European tournament since Aberdeen achieved the feat in 2007 – thanks, again, to Scotland’s improved coefficient. Robbie Neilson’s men entered the Europa League in the play-off round, where they were paired alongside FC Zurich, and the capital outfit know that even if they are defeated, a place in the group stages of the Europa Conference League is guaranteed.

The Tynecastle outfit suffered a 2-1 reverse at the hands of the Swiss champions on Thursday night but will remain bullish about their chances of overturning the deficit in Gorgie this week. Zurich have endured a poor start to their domestic campaign – and sit bottom of the Swiss Super League after five rounds of fixtures – providing grounds for cautious optimism for the Jambos’ prospects.

This European campaign represents a huge opportunity for Hearts. They finished third at a canter in the Premiership last season and the financial rewards that would accompany reaching the group stages of the Europa League would be lucrative indeed. Bringing in four or five million pounds of revenue from European football would allow the club to put further room between themselves and the rest of Scottish football, and regular qualification over a period of a few years would create a huge financial buffer between the capital outfit and the rest.

This is the prize that is on offer for Neilson’s side. The money on offer for overcoming Zurich is game-changing and although the fiscal rewards take a dip when dropping down to the Conference League, a sizeable seven-figure sum will still be up for grabs. As well as the cash incentives, though, there is also the added bonus of what regularly competing against more sophisticated European opponents can do for the Hearts first team.

Hearts find themselves in a somewhat strange position domestically. They don’t have the resources to truly challenge the Glasgow duopoly yet they are a level or two above most of their contemporaries in Scotland. If they are to improve, they need to face teams of a similar stature and that can only arrive via Europe. Zurich might well prove to be a step too far for the Edinburgh club but the guarantee of a further six European matches this season, either in the Europa League or the Conference League, is certain to help the Hearts players raise their game. Last season established the gap between Hearts and the rest; this year, they have the opportunity to widen it.