CHRISTOPHE Berra’s acute disappointment at being left on the Hearts bench for the Scottish Cup final against Gretna at Hampden back in 2006 was tempered by the belief that, at just 21, he would have many more opportunities to play in such occasions and lift trophies before his career was over.

The centre half has certainly gone on to savour some fine moments with both club and country since that difficult day. But he is still waiting to take part in his first final some 13 years on. The English Championship he lifted in his first season at Wolves in 2009 remains the only other piece of silverware he has laid his hands on.

So the semi-final encounter with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the William Hill-sponsored competition this afternoon has added importance for the 34-year-old; he appreciates it could be his last chance to fulfil a lifelong ambition and is determined to take full advantage of it.

“It would mean the world to me to lead Hearts into a cup final,” said the Tynecastle captain. “It would be a highlight in my career. Time is running out for me. I’m not naïve enough not to realise that.”

“I was disappointed not to start the (2006) game. When you are younger, you are hoping that you will have a good career, but the older you get, you realise that there is only a very small percentage of players and teams who have the opportunities to reach cup finals consistently or even once in a lifetime. So when those opportunities do come along …

“We have not been to Hampden for I don’t know how many years so this is a massive opportunity. Hopefully we can grasp that. Hopefully, come three o’clock on Saturday, we are a winning team no matter how we’ve played.”

Berra’s involvement, albeit as an unused substitute, in the Gretna final will ensure that he doesn’t take victory over Caledonian Thistle this afternoon for granted even though Hearts are strong favourites to triumph against their Ladbrokes Championship rivals and progress to face either Aberdeen or Celtic next month.

The tiny third tier club, bankrolled by colourful millionaire owner Brooks Mileson, came back from being a goal down and took the game to extra-time and then penalties before being beaten 4-2 in a shoot-out.

“It could have gone either way,” he said. “The team Hearts had at the time was probably on a far bigger wage bill with players who, no disrespect, had a far higher profile than those we have now. That shows you how difficult football can be.

“If they hadn’t won that, they would have got slaughtered. But they did. They just scraped through on penalties, which shows you how fine the margins are in football. No disrespect, but Gretna were a smaller team than Inverness are. That shows you it doesn’t matter how good you are. We finished second that season. We were flying high, but it was a still a tough game in the cup final.”

The build-up to the semi-final has been problematic for Hearts. They lost the Edinburgh derby 2-1 to Hibernian at Tynecastle seven days ago. Their manager Craig Levein was targeted for abuse by his own side’s supporters followed the defeat and faced calls to be replaced.

Berra, though, has seen it all before. He has no concerns about disaffection in the stands impacting on Hearts’ bid to beat Inverness. He is confident Levein has been undeterred by the extreme reaction to the loss last weekend.

“Ach, I’m not daft,” he said. “If you play football you have to take criticism on the chin. The fans have that right. If they want to criticise you need to take it, it’s not the first time the gaffer has been there and it won’t be the last time.

“At any club if you lose games there will be people who want to have a go at you. That’s what happens if you’re the manager, coaches, players and it’s never going to change. It will still be the same 20 years down the line. That’s just the way it is.

“Unfortunately, we are not a Manchester City, who win all the time. Even their manager (Pep Guardiola) got criticised after they got beaten by Tottenham this week and he’s one of the best managers in the world. When you play sport you set yourself up to take the good when it comes and the bad when it comes as well, that’s part and parcel.”

Asked how Levein had been in raining this week, Berra said: “Just normal. I think you have got to be like that, if you don’t you won’t last very long. He is experienced enough to know how to handle the pressure and stuff like that. Sometimes after games you just switch off. Tynecastle is a hard place to play and you have to take it on the chin.

“But don’t tell me everyone in that ground doesn’t like the manager. It will be split. No matter where you go, Parkhead, Old Trafford, it’s the same. You can’t please everyone so all you can do is give your best and see what happens. The manager has been there and done it before.”

Levein hasn’t, however, won a trophy of any description, either as a player or a manager, during his time in the professional game. His skipper reckons he will be keen to change that. He is confident the reverse seven days ago and the fallout from it will be the furthest thing from his mind come kick-off at noon today.

“I never knew that stat to be honest,” he said. “When you work in Scotland it’s usually Celtic and Rangers who win trophies. It’s difficult. He’ll be as desperate as anyone to get to the final and win this cup, it’s something he wants to add to his CV.

“Football is day by day. You come in, you reflect on it and you move on. You’ve got another big challenge. It’s a good thing that we do have a semi-final. We could have had someone away from home where there was nothing to play for. There is no better way to bounce back than with a semi-final.

“It will be a test of character. We will see who can survive and get through it. I’m pretty positive that we can do that.”