Scotland begin a crucial Euro 2016 qualifying double-header on Saturday. Georgia are the visitors to Ibrox Stadium tomorrow before a tough away trip to Poland three days later. With the expansion of the European Championships to twenty-four teams from sixteen for the event in France, many believe that this is the national team’s greatest chance to qualify for a major, international tournament in recent years. With the top two nations in each group automatically qualifying, as well as a best third placed team and the fall-back of play-offs, the opportunity to compete in France in just under two years is better than ever before.
It is sixteen years since Scotland last competed in a major finals. The World Cup, France ’98 saw the national side fail to make it out of their group – an admittedly tough one that featured reigning, defending champions, Brazil, Norway and Morocco. One point was all Craig Brown’s men had to show for their efforts, despite two good performances against the Brazilians and Norwegians, before a 3-0 capitulation to Morocco in the final match.
Here, Scottish Fans takes a look at how Scotland qualified for the tournament in France, the players that got them there and the memories that remain over a decade later.
How they got there
Scotland navigated a relatively tough qualifying group on their way to France. Sweden and Austria presented a considerable challenge to Craig Brown’s side, as well as Estonia – when they decided to turn up that is!
Scotland posted the best defensive record in the group, conceding only three goals in their ten qualifying matches. Only one defeat saw them go through, registering the best record of nations that finished second in their group – edged out of first by an impressive Austrian team.
Of course, the campaign will forever be remembered for the aforementioned Estonia fiasco. With Scotland having to stand for the national anthem and take kick-off, before the referee put a stop to the ludicrous situation. John Collins still celebrated though!
There were few surprises in Craig Brown’s squad. Jim Leighton, Tom Boyd, John Collins and Kevin Gallacher provided an experienced spine to the side, whilst there was only one uncapped player called up – Celtic’s Jonathan Gould to provide back-up to Leighton and Wimbledon’s Neil Sullivan. Every squad member bar two played their trade in either Scotland or England – John Collins and Scott Booth plying their trade in France and Holland respectively.
A tough group – including the current champions – started promisingly, generated just enough hope for the Tartan Army to cling on to, only to be swept away in convincing fashion to leave a familiar sense of glorious failure.
Scotland started their group – and the tournament itself – against Brazil in Paris. After falling behind to a goal in the first five minutes, John Collins equalised from the penalty spot to mass celebrations behind the goal from the travelling Scottish fans. An unfortunate own goal in the second half would leave Craig Brown and his squad pointless going into a crucial second match against Norway. Celtic midfielder Craig Burley scored Scotland’s goal in a 1-1 draw that left hope that a win over Morocco could send Scotland through to their first ever World Cup second round.
Such hope however was crushed by a rampant Morocco, who saw off the Scots 3-0, convincingly putting to bed any hope of the Tartan Army extending their stay in France; a promising campaign had ended abruptly once again.
So will Scotland lay to rest the memory of France ’98 and finally make it to a major, international tournament, again in France?
With the increase in size to twenty four teams from sixteen, the opportunity is certainly there and under Gordon Strachan, the national football team has looked solid. Whether that preparation will lead to a successful campaign has yet to be seen, but if ever there was a chance to make history, this is it.