By CRAIG ANDERSON
HERE’S a quiz question for you. When was the last time Scotland won a game at the World Cup Finals? The answer is 30 years ago today.
If you’d said that to us in the aftermath of a stirring 2-1 win over Sweden at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium in Genoa, we would never have believed it. But yet, it’s completely true.
Our trip to France in 1998 yielded a 1-1 draw with Norway, sandwiched between a 2-1 loss to Brazil and a 3-0 mauling by Morocco, so when Stuart McCall and Mo Johnston scored to claim our last points in a World Cup match, little did we know it would be our last for 30 years and counting.
It was the second game for us in the tournament and before Roger Milla danced around a corner flag or Paul Gascoigne cried his eyes out at the thought of missing a game his team ended up not playing in, we were already fighting for our lives.
Just five days before, we had been humiliated again on the biggest stage of all. Peru beating us 3-1 in Argentina in ’78? ‘Hold our pints’, said Costa Rica as they entered their first-ever World Cup.
Like Ally McLeod’s side, Scotland also underestimated the Central American nation and went down in a flat 1-0 loss, with a goal from a man who’s name sounds like a sneeze – Juan Cayasso.
Blown away again and already scrapping to stay in the tournament, Andy Roxburgh’s side returned to Genoa to take on the Swedes, who had opened the campaign with a 2-1 loss to the Brazilians.
Scotland made four changes from the defeat to Costa Rica, by swapping Richard Gough for Craig Levein, switching Paul McStay for Murdo MacLeod, Alan McInally for Robert Fleck and Gordon Durie started in place of Jim Bett.
No doubt the team were hurting and keen to show the best of what they had to offer. Sweden wouldn’t know what hit them, as McCall, scorer of the first goal for the Scots, told the Daily Record in an interview with Hugh Keevins 10 years ago.
“When we were doing our calculations before the tournament, the general consensus was we’d beat Costa Rica, lose to Brazil and find the Swedes a hard lot to handle,” McCall said.
“How wrong can you be? The Swedes were beaten in the tunnel by a show of pre-match aggression that had everything to do with the stick we’d taken for losing our first game.
“Alex McLeish was growling at people. Big Roy Aitken was snarling at the other side. Even little Robert Fleck was eyeballing Liverpool’s Glenn Hysen, who looked more like a male model than a football player.
“It was intimidation and not ability as such that beat the Swedes. It was a European-style battle and we were the masters.”
Whether the tactic was intentional or not, Scotland had the upper hand and it was McCall who would be celebrating the opening goal after 11 minutes – his first and what proved to be his only international goal.
A corner on the far side, coming from Gordon Durie’s high ball to Fleck down the right, who smashed the ball off the legs of Stefan Schwarz to earn it, gave them the first chance.
MacLeod swung it into the danger, the flick came off Dave McPherson and McCall, who was instructed to wait around the 18-yard box moved into position, was at the six-yard box and poked the ball home.
A dream start and there was a slight redemption to the nightmare of Costa Rica a few days before. Slight, but, of course, the job wasn’t done yet.
The Swedes struggled to really find any foothold in the game as Scotland grew in confidence and it wasn’t until 10 minutes to go when the Scots made it safe.
The captain, Roy Aitken, saw a shot saved by Thomas Ravelli, the Sweden goalkeeper, then his heels were clipped by Roland Nilsson as he tried to line up the rebound.
Responsibility fell to Johnston, who drilled it in past Ravelli at his right-hand side. The points were in the bag. Or were they?
Scotland are never a country or a team to make life easy for themselves, Sweden got themselves a lifeline with five minutes to go as Glenn Stromberg forged a path through the centre to finish off an excellent long pass, beating Jim Leighton low to this right.
It was enough though as Scotland had found a way back and a chance to get themselves into the knock-out rounds for the first time ever.
McCall summed up the mood after the two games.
He added: “We’d gone from dejection to elation because there’s nothing quite like proving you can mix it with the best during a World Cup.
“The Tartan Army were still with us and we went into the final group match, against Brazil in Turin, knowing a draw would see us through for the first time.”
We all know what happened there. Typical.