Football: View from the armchair: A tartan suit and an inflatable killer whale

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The Independent Online
IT IS customary in the aftermath of an English defeat to look around for one of the other Home Nations to adopt as "Our Boys". So, as Gene Pitney once sang "24 Hours From Toulouse", the Scottish team had become the focus of our hopes, we were British now, not English.

Jimmy Hill rallied to the cause in familiar fashion by wearing a bow tie with the blue and white cross of St Andrew, thereby establishing a clear connection between the Scottish patron saint and a patronising English git.

Would it be torment by Hagi one night followed by torment from Hadji the next? Hill admitted to being filled with "fear and trepidation", perhaps suspecting that some of the old Partick Thistle might be aroused in the boy Hansen sitting just two seats away from him. The panel were out on the roof terrace again and it looks like a long drop but Hansen remained as placid as ever.

"We need optimism," he said emphatically.

The chief source of this unusually upbeat view was not the Scottish team itself but the Moroccan goalkeeper Driss Benzekri, who had looked previously like a classic "dodge pot".

Meanwhile, Ally McCoist had been sent, somewhat cruelly, to the stadium itself and was glimpsed in his tartan suit with an inflatable killer whale under his arm, as per standard BBC presentational rules.

The consensus seemed to be that "Scotland would give it their best shot", always assuming that Gordon Durie and Kevin Gallacher could remember what one of these was.

My BBC transmission had Barry Davies and David Pleat as commentators, but I presume that north of the border a less neutral pairing would have been deployed behind the microphones - Sean Connery and Rab C Nesbitt perhaps?

At first, Davies and Pleat were commendably even-handed, but they gradually "upped their tempo" as Scotland began to assert themselves.

"Working nice triangles, playing a progressive ball after three or four passes," Pleat oozed in coach-speak, while Davies resorted to a more basic tactical analysis.

"Somebody's got to sink it," he yelled as the ball bobbled around the Moroccan box in search of a Scottish boot.

Unfortunately, it was the Moroccans who now produced a progressive ball, a 60-yard hoof downfield which cleared Colin Hendry. Pleat was soon to describe Hendry as a colossus, and he certainly looked like a statue as Salaheddine Bassir ran on to the ball and then the inevitable happened, the Vaseline slid off Jim Leighton's forehead and into his eyes and he lost sight of his near post. Bassir bashed in his goal and you could almost hear the wind leaking out of the bagpipes.

At half-time Hansen was still clinging to the lifebelt of the Moroccan keeper's helplessness, but correctly identified Scotland's dilemma. They needed to attack but not to expose themselves to the pace of the Moroccan forwards.

Scotland solved this immediately by conceding a second goal, Abdeljilil Hadda's shot squirting in off the Vaseline on Leighton's gloves. The Brazil against Norway score in the top corner of our screens now became irrelevant to all but the Moroccan and Norwegian viewers of the BBC.

Scotland at least improved on their previous World Cup teams by getting their agony over quickly, Craig Burley's ludicrous lunge being the symbolic point of departure.

Scottish fans waved a flag with the name Culloden stitched across it, perhaps in memory of a more painful defeat. But the drama was happening elsewhere as the little graphic in the corner registered "un point" for Norway as they equalised against Brazil.

Our emotional focus was now with the Moroccans as they joyously added a third goal unaware of the climax unfolding in Marseilles.

A brilliant editorial decision by the BBC to cut away from the Scotland game allowed us to see Norway snatch a victory after what turned out to be perhaps the most morally dubious penalty claim ever.

The final stages of Scotland's game therefore became not an epitaph for their own efforts to qualify but for Morocco's spirited football. As the final whistle sounded their players celebrated progress in the tournament, but the cameras revealed the dawning dread on their faces as the fateful news was relayed to them. Scotland had been there before, but now they were classed in their role of bystanders to somebody else's grief.

Ally McCoist generously expressed his sorrow for Morocco, before departing for a drink with the Scottish supporters. He should be back before the start of next season.

Meanwhile, ITV had drafted in Alex Ferguson to conduct the last rites on Scotland but were diverted by an editorial urge to stoke up the growing feud between him and Glenn Hoddle. Jim Rosenthal probed but, when Fergie's eyes narrowed to slits and the smile became razor thin on his face, Jim recognised the look of a killer whale and swam into shallower waters.