GLORIOUS losers. That has been the label this group of Scots have been trying to shrug off. It will give them little comfort then that as they went down to Spain in Seville, that they more than deserved huge credit in defeat.

It was a night of what-ifs in the end, and there was nothing more regrettable than the manner of Spain’s late second goal that clinched their victory, in that it was a slip from the otherwise imperious Aaron Hickey that led to Ryan Porteous putting through his own net.

Hickey emerged at Tynecastle as a 16-year-old left-back, built like the side of a fiver and lucky to be pushing 10 stone soaking wet. But in Seville, he filled every inch of the Scotland jersey, and showed that he was now not only a man, but a man that his country could rely on.

There were so many heroes for Scotland in the Estadio de la Cartuja, who may have been wearing the white change jerseys, but refused to wave the white flag in the face of a Spanish onslaught. They came up just short, but how close they came to finishing the job of qualifying for the European Championships.

Wherever he was deployed – and he was asked to play both on the right and left of the Scottish defence as captain Andy Robertson was forced from the action – Hickey was the man who stood tall above them all.

Though in saying that, Lady Luck might feel a little peeved to have been pipped to the award of Scotland’s player of the match, as she too certainly played her part in keeping the visitors in the contest, as early as the first minute in fact as Ferran Torres slipped the ball inches past the post when clean through on Angus Gunn.

Not that Spain didn’t enjoy a huge slice of good fortune of their own, and goalkeeper Unai Simon in particular.

Quite how his knee into the side of Robertson that ended with the Scotland skipper leaving the field with his arm in a makeshift sling wasn’t deemed a foul, and the slight lean that Jack Hendry applied to the Spanish number one as Scott McTominay whipped a glorious free kick into the top corner of the net was, only referee Serdar Gözübüyük could tell you.

You might well get your statue one day, Scott. The Tartan Army were robbed of such a glorious moment in national team history by VAR, but their moment of exaltation as the country qualify for Germany will surely still come.

The early Torres chance was the only real defensive lapse from Steve Clarke’s men in the opening half, who allowed Spain to have almost all of the ball and challenged them to do something with it. They threatened, at times. No more so than when Mikel Merino smashed a half volley off the inside of Gunn’s post and out for a goal kick on the other side. Thanks again, Dame Fortune.

But for the most part, the Scots defended brilliantly. And nobody defended with more poise than Hickey.

Such was his domination of Mikel Oryazabal that the Real Sociedad man was kept inside at the break, and it wasn’t until Jesus Navas came on later in the second half that any sort of meaningful delivery got past him. Unfortunately, it would lead to the all-important opening goal.

On a rare occasion that Alvaro Morata timed his run to stay onside, Navas found him, and his diving header was too much for Gunn to handle.

Scotland were unbowed, and they tried to hit back. They forced corners. And Hickey forced perhaps the best chance of the game for the visitors with a driving run to latch onto a clever McGinn pass.

He drove into the box, hit a low cross towards the back post that substitute Che Adams threw out a toe at, and Simon's numbers came up again as the ball was diverted from close range directly into his path. 

Just as the Tartan Army braced themselves for a big finale in anticipation of another huge moment from this team, the sense of injustice they were carrying had cause to burn just a little more intensely as it was Hickey of all people who erred to let the Spanish in.

Under no pressure, his tiring legs buckled beneath him, and his slip allowed Navas to drill the ball low across goal, where Porteous could do little else but divert the ball into his own net as he desperately tried to salvage the sitaution.

It was a cruel end for Hickey and it put the tin lid on a cruel night for Scotland, but among all the positives, there was also pride. They may have been the losers here, but the ending to their qualification story will still be glorious.