Scotland are in a stronger position to qualify for the 2014 World Cup now than when they began their failed Euro 2012 bid, according to former midfielder John Collins.
Spain snuffed out any hope Craig Levein's side had of playing in next summer's tournament in Poland and the Ukraine by easing to a 3-1 victory in Alicante, leaving Scotland in third place in Group I and out of contention for a play-off spot.
However Collins told Sky Sports News HD that Scotland have improved significantly from the side that drew 0-0 with Lithuania in their opening Euro 2012 qualifying game.
And he believes they have a realistic chance of challenging Group A rivals Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Macedonia and Wales for a place in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"I think there's no doubt we made progress as the campaign went along," Collins reflected. "We had an horrendous start - two away games and we only picked up one point.
"But I do think it is the best squad we've had for maybe 10 years; they have got better and harder to beat.
"I would like to see them playing a little more offensive, sometimes with two attackers, but I think they are developing and if they keep making progress that's what we are all hoping for.
"We don't have a Spain in our group in the World Cup qualifying, which is good, but there are still a lot of good teams in it.
"But when you look at all of those teams you think 'we have got a chance against all of them'. It will be a close group, that's for sure. There won't be one team that runs away with it."
Brighton & Hove Albion striker Craig Mackail-Smith made his first start for Scotland in Saturday's 1-0 victory over Liechenstein and Collins believes the 27-year-old is just one of an emerging batch of players who can help Levein's side take the next step up.
"There are a few players who have come on the scene - little [Barry] Bannan and Mackail-Smith, who nobody probably knew about before the campaign started - so hopefully we can discover another one or two.
"From last night's team, we've got Scott Brown to come back into things. I'd like to see Steven Fletcher at Wolves making up with Craig Levein and coming back into the fold as well. He's another top-class striker.
"There is quality in the squad, there's no doubt about that."
He added: "Billy Stark, the U21 manager, is doing a fantastic job. He's got them playing football, passing the ball and playing with a lot more confidence.
"There are one or two youngsters coming into that squad that in the next couple of years might be pushing into Craig's first-team squad.
"I've been impressed with the way the U21s went about their business in the last couple of years and I think that's all credit to the manager."
Collins - who made over 50 appearances for both Everton and Fulham during his career - agreed in part with Scotland and Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam, who said over the weekend that "it bodes well for the national team if we have more players playing in England than in Scotland."
But he insisted that a switch 'down South' was not necessarily a sure-fire way for all Scottish players to improve their game.
"I think it has always been the case that Scottish players, at a certain stage of their career, move onto the English league," he said.
"Week in, week out the English Premier League is more competitive - they are up against the world's great players and they are tested, and that is what you want as a player.
"Maybe in Scotland if you are playing for Celtic or Rangers there is less of a test week in, week out. But, of course, I'm not advocating for all Scottish players to move to England!"