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SCOTLAND'S base on the banks of the Clyde Firth was an interesting place to spend some time yesterday.

It felt for all the world like the calm before the storm.

There's something brewing out there and it's not just the 800-mile wide Hurricane Joaquin, which is expected to batter our shores at some point on Friday.

No, this one will touch down at Hampden at 7.45pm on Thursday and after it has wreaked 90 minutes of havoc our whole landscape will have been altered beyond recognition.

One way or the other, everything will have changed.

Beat Poland and Strachan and his players will be celebrating their greatest win while moving ever so tantalisingly close to Euro 2016.

Lose the Group D crunch, however, and this manager and his players will be engulfed by a sense of devastation. The resulting carnage may even separate them for good.

That's what's at stake here as the clock ticks down to this final qualification double-header.

So it was deeply intriguing to be around this place and to get a feel for the mood of those men who are about to be pushed out into the epicentre of the damn thing.

Men such as Mark McGhee, who has had Strachan's back all the way through these two-and-a-half years of steady progression and who is perfectly placed to know it all comes down to this.

"If you had said to me back when the draw was made that it would come down to one game and we would have to beat Poland at home to almost guarantee the play-offs, then I'd have taken that," he said when asked to explain how Scotland can be expected to cope with the intolerable strain.

"The other thing is our job this week. We have to prepare the team in a way that shuts out everything else.

"Our focus has to be totally on that first whistle and the 11 guys we are playing against. Not on potential recriminations or outcomes, not on what ifs, buts and maybes.

"All we can do, and all we have to make sure the team are doing, is to be absolutely focused on those 11 guys within those white lines. Not even on the crowd. Just us against them."

And McGhee takes confidence from our last two games against the Poles, a 1-0 friendly win in Warsaw last year that was followed by the 2-2 Group D draw in the Polish capital.

He said: "We have already proven that we are a match for them. What we now have to do is produce as good a performance as we can to give ourselves the best possible chance of beating them on the night. If we do that, the rest will look after itself."

McGhee's passion for this job is as striking as it is impressive.

This is a man who wants dearly to get back into club management but not enough to even consider walking away from the job in hand. Together with Strachan, this pair of Gothenburg greats may never have felt more at home since their days together at Aberdeen. They are in their element.

And yet, curiously, neither of them will say if they intend on hanging around if it does all end in tears and bitter acrimony. Instead, they are attempting to pull off a managerial trick they learned all those years ago under the master at Pittodrie by creating a bubble here inside this team hotel. One from which no player will be allowed to stray.

McGhee said: "This was one of the things I learned from Alex Ferguson about management.

"When we played Real Madrid I had no semblance of a feeling about who we were playing. It's only now that I look back and think, 'Wait a minute, it was Real Madrid we were playing.' "It was like he never told us who we were playing. As if we'd find out on the night. He just took all that pressure totally away. We didn't think about Real Madrid or what they had won.

"It's a bit like that here. It's our job to make sure the boys aren't thinking beyond this match and who might be here or might not be here.

"That's not the point. The point is there is a fantastic match to be played on Thursday, a fantastic challenge for the players.

"If they do want to go beyond the game and think about anything else then it should be about how amazing it will be when we come out of there having won the game. That will just be the best feeling on earth.

"When we played at Fulham last year (a 2-2 friendly draw with Nigeria) I remember walking off the pitch and saying to Gordon, 'Can you imagine taking this lot to France? It would be amazing!' "The boys have to think about that rather than worrying about what happens if we don't win."

This is no crossroads, according to McGhee. Rather, he describes it as more of a "hill" which Scotland have been climbing since Strachan took the wheel. And yet the fact remains, it feels as if we're only halfway up it. Surely then it would be a shame for the journey to end here? McGhee said: "I can say in all honesty I have not given it a thought. There is a tremendous amount of potential in this squad. This group of players can get better. But life will go on regardless.

"Yes, it's an exciting prospect but the most exciting prospect, and the thing that will bring the biggest progress, will be making it to France.

"And we have an opportunity on Thursday night to go a long way to doing that so that can only be our focus just now."

And to that end, they have gathered their best players here to assess which of them has arrived at this moment at precisely the right time. Who knows, one of them might just be about to make himself a national hero and Strachan must now decide which of them are hot and which are not.

McGhee said: "I was checking my phone constantly on Saturday, looking at the results coming in, looking at who scored and who was playing.

"I was delighted to see so many of them were not just playing but scoring goals. Guys such Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher and then Leigh Griffiths on Sunday.

"So, yeah, that is very important - it is something Gordon feels strongly about going into this game."

There's a storm coming all right. What Strachan needs now is to find the right men to blow Poland away at Hampden.

MARK MCGHEE Fergie didn't think about Real and what they'd won


WE'VE NOTHING TO FEAR Strachan and McGhee, left, have been telling the players to focus on their own game, a trick they learned under Ferguson, below left, at Aberdeen as they bid to claim another fine result against the Poles after two good displays in Warsaw
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 6, 2015
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