Tartan crunch: 10 of the hits and misses the Tartan Army will never forget

All too often, Scotland's hopes of qualification for major championships have gone down to a single make-or-break match. As they prepare to face Italy this afternoon with a berth at Euro 2008 at stake, Nick Harris looks at 10 of the hits and misses the Tartan Army will never forget
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Netherlands 6 Scotland 0 (Euro 2004, qualifier play-off, second leg, 19 November, Amsterdam)

Background Scotland, under Berti Vogts, endured a torrid start to their qualifying campaign, infamously drawing in the Faroe Islands in their first game. But they rallied, in a fashion, to finish second in Group 5 behind Germany, earning a play-off against the Netherlands. The first leg was at Hampden on 15 November. The Scots won 1-0 thanks to a wonderful goal, looped over Edwin van der Sar after a jinky run by James McFadden – then a 20-year-old who had just joined Everton from Motherwell. Hampden erupted. Joy was unconfined. Iberia beckoned, surely?

What happened? Dear oh dear. Oh dear. Their worst defeat in 42 years. The painful details? The Netherlands' coach, Dick Advocaat, made five changes. Wesley Sneijder opened the scoring early, Ruud van Nistelrooy got a hat-trick, and Andre Ooijer and Frank de Boer also scored. "I am embarrassed – all of Scotland is embarrassed," Vogts said. "But I don't blame the players and neither should you. Just blame me. I know all the players in Scotland and these are the best". McFadden said: "It's dispiriting, we're absolutely gutted and to lose in that manner is hard to take."

Verdict Agony.


Belgium 2 Scotland 0

(World Cup 2002, penultimate qualifier, 5 September, Brussels)

Background Scotland, managed by Craig Brown, had been drawn in Group 5, where one automatic place in Japan and Korea was up for grabs, and one play-off spot. No-hopers San Marino and minnows Latvia were never going to challenge, leaving Croatia, Belgium and Scotland fighting it out. Before this match the table read: Belgium 14pts, Croatia 12pts, Scotland 12pts. A win would virtually have guaranteed Scotland a top-two finish, maybe even top spot. They would face a "gimme" against Latvia last (which they subsequently won), while Croatia and Belgium would face each other.

What happened? Scotland were on the uninspiring side of poor, failing to hit a single shot on goal. The hosts had three shots, and scored from two of them. Nico van Kerckhoven netted in the first half and Bart Goor twisted the knife with a late second. "I think we have to hold our hands up and say that our World Cup chance has now gone," Brown said afterwards. An editorial in the Daily Record the following morning summed up a nation's mood: "The End – No goals, no flair, no Japan. Go now, Craig". He went not long afterwards. Croatia qualified automatically. Belgium went through via the play-offs.

Verdict Agony.


England 0 Scotland 1

(Euro 2000, qualifier play-off, second leg, 17 November, Wembley)

Background Scotland and England came second in their groups and were drawn together in the play-offs. Kevin Keegan's England won the first leg at Hampden 2-0, with both goals from Paul Scholes. Scotland's captain, Colin Hendry, said it would require "a ridiculously impressive performance" to seal an aggregate win.

What happened? Scotland turned in a ridiculously impressive performance. But they could win only 1-0, thanks to a solo goal from Don Hutchison. Late in the game, with the Tartan Army belting out "Flower of Scotland" to their lungs' capacity, David Seaman made a brilliant reaction stop to Christian Dailly's point-blank effort to deny the Auld Enemy extra time. Craig Brown was "immensely disappointed" but happy with his team's effort. England's shell-shocked captain, Alan Shearer, said: "We knew the Scots would be wounded, but we did not think they would come at us quite so well." Seaman said: "It was a hell of a fight by Scotland... I was only doing my job. It was nothing personal." The BBC's Alan Green said: "Scotland, not England, deserved to go through." To this day, many Scotland fans look bemused if you remind them they won at Wembley in 1999.

Verdict Heroic failure. And agony.


Scotland 2 Latvia 0

(World Cup 1998, final qualifier, 11 October, Celtic Park)

Background There were nine qualifying groups in Europe, with only the winners guaranteed to go through. Eight second-placed teams would play off for four more slots, while one country would qualify as the best runners-up. Going into the final game, the trio of Austria (playing Belarus), Scotland (facing Latvia) and Sweden (v Estonia) were all in contention for top-two finishes – or missing out entirely.

What happened? As one match reporter wrote: "Nobody could have expected this game to put so much strain on the collective central nervous system." Scotland edged ahead just before half-time through Blackburn's Kevin Gallacher, and it wasn't until 10 minutes from time that Gordon Durie sealed the points. Scotland finished second in the group behind Austria. And went through as best runners-up, ahead of the likes of Italy. "A great team effort," said Craig Brown. "Rockin' All Over The World" blared from the PA system after this 10th home game without defeat: nine wins and a draw. Scotland's reward was to be drawn in Brazil's group at the big event, and play them in the opening game.

Verdict Agonising ecstasy.


Scotland 4 San Marino 0

(Euro 1992, final qualifier, 13 November, Hampden Park)

Background Scotland's group – from which only the winners would qualify for the eight-team finals – comprised Andy Roxburgh's side plus Bulgaria, Romania, San Marino and Switzerland. It was the tightest of all the sections, with four nations (not San Marino) within two points of each other before the final games. Scotland knew a Swiss victory in Romania the same day would put the Swiss through, regardless, while a Swiss draw would make goal difference critical. But if Romania beat Switzerland, Scotland would face a seven-day wait for the Bulgaria-Romania fixture to complete the group.

What happened? Romania beat Switzerland. And Scotland, who ended up with a 2-3-5 formation as they sought a deluge of goals, won with headers from Paul McStay and Richard Gough, a strike from Gordon Durie and the 10th international goal of Ally McCoist's career. "I'm unhappy that we didn't set Romania more of a target," Roxburgh said afterwards. "We made enough chances to win three games. It was so frustrating not even being able to double our 3-0 half-time lead." So with just Bulgaria-Romania to play, the table read: Scotland 11pts, Switzerland 10pts, Romania 9pts, Bulgaria 8pts. Bulgaria held Romania 1-1. Phew! Scotland had qualified for the European Championship finals for the first time.

Verdict Delayed ecstasy.


Scotland 1 Norway 1

(World Cup 1990, final qualifier, 15 November, Hampden Park)

Background The top two sides from Group 5 – consisting of Yugoslavia, Scotland, France, Norway and Cyprus – would qualify for the World Cup in Italy. Yugoslavia had safely sealed their place as group winners long before the end. That left Scotland and France battling it out for the second berth before their final games. Scotland's came first, against Norway. France's against Cyprus was later. Scotland needed one point to put them out of France's reach, while a defeat to the Scandinavians might allow France to snatch qualification on goal difference.

What happened? Ally McCoist put Scotland ahead just before half-time with a memorable chip from 25 yards over Erik Thorstvedt. All seemed well until Erlan Johnsen equalised in the dying seconds, threatening, for a few moments at least, that Norway would strike again to put Scotland in peril. They didn't. That meant Scotland had qualified for a fifth consecutive World Cup. "No Miracle in Glasgow," said the headline in L'Equipe, which also ran a cartoon of a carload of French fans with the caption "The French are going to the World Cup ... as tourists."

Verdict? L'ecstasy.


Scotland 2 Australia 0

(World Cup 1986, intercontinental play-off, first leg, 20 November, Hampden)

Background The four-team qualifying section, Group 7, featured Spain, Scotland, Wales and Iceland, with the winners, Spain, going directly to Mexico and the runners-up going into an intercontinental qualifier with Oceania's best team. Scotland drew with Wales 1-1 on the tragic night in Cardiff that Jock Stein suffered a heart attack and died. The point earned the Scots the right to face Australia.

What happened? With Alex Ferguson at the managerial helm, Scotland knew they would need a decent cushion to take into the second leg in Melbourne. Ferguson named six strikers. The starting XI included Alex McLeish and Roy Aitken (now manager and No 2 with Scotland), Kenny Dalglish, Gordon Strachan and Graeme Souness. Frank McAvennie made his international debut. It was 0-0 for almost an hour before a Davie Cooper free-kick broke the deadlock, and McAvennie added a second. It proved enough. The return leg was goalless.

verdict Diluted ecstasy.


Wales 0 Scotland 2

(World Cup 1978, final qualifier, 12 October, Anfield)

Background Scotland and Wales were in a three-team group with Czechoslovakia with one berth at the World Cup in Argentina available. Both sides had beaten the Czechs once, Scotland had lost in Prague, and Scotland had beaten Wales at Hampden. So a win for Wales on their own turf would put Scotland out. Except the "home" match wasn't on Wales' own turf. Crowd trouble and an insufficiently secure Ninian Park meant the game was moved to Anfield.

What happened? In front of a full house, where the Tartan Army were in the majority, both sides had a series of good chances without taking them and the game remained 0-0 until 12 minutes from the end. Then Joe Jordan rose with the Wales defender David Jones to challenge for an attacking throw-in. A hand hit the ball. The French referee, Robert Wurtz, awarded a match-changing penalty to Scotland. "It was obvious Jordan handled the ball," said the Welsh goalkeeper, Dai Davies. Replays and photographs suggest that Jordan, not Jones, did handle, but even 30 years later, Jordan insists he did not. Don Masson scored the spot-kick, and then Kenny Dalglish, on his 50th cap, made it 2-0. Ally McLeod took Scotland to Argentina intent on victory, but that's another story.

verdict Controversial ecstasy.


Scotland 2 Czechoslovakia 1

(World Cup 1974, penultimate qualifier, 26 September, Hampden)

Background Scotland had not reached the World Cup finals for 16 years and were placed in a qualifying group with Denmark and a good Czechoslovakian side, the nucleus of which would go on and win the 1976 European Championship. Scotland won home and away against Denmark before the Czechs played a game. The Czechs could only manage a win and a draw with the Danes before their double-header against Scotland. A win for Scotland at home would give them an unassailable lead with one game left.

What happened? "Win and we'd be through," recalled one of that game's midfielders, David Hay, this week, making a comparison with Scotland's match today. "I sat in the dressing room with the likes of Denis Law, Billy Bremner, Danny McGrain, Jim Holton, Kenny Dalglish and Sandy Jardine, and we believed we could win." The visitors had other ideas, taking the lead through Zdenek Nehoda before Jim Holton levelled with a header just before half-time. "We gave every ounce of energy we had that night," Hay recalls. "Then a young Joe Jordan hit the winner."

verdict Czechstasy.


Italy 3 Scotland 0

(World Cup 1966, final qualifier, 7 December, Naples)

background One World Cup slot was available in Group 8, to the winners. Joining Scotland were Italy, Poland and Finland. By early November 1965 every game had been played except two – the Scotland-Italy double header – and one of them was going to top the group. Scotland had five points to Italy's seven when the Azzurri arrived in Glasgow for the first game. In front of a Hampden crowd of 100,393, the hosts won a famous victory over the mighty continentals, 1-0 courtesy of John Greig's late goal, set up by the wizardry of Jim Baxter. (That remains, before today, Scotland's only win against the Italians). So it was now seven points apiece, and the whole shooting match went to the last game.

What happened?Jock Stein was forced to field an understrength team in the Stadio San Paolo; not that it would mattered perhaps, as the hosts did what they had threatened to do in the first match, and dominated from start to finish. With two Milanese forwards in terrific form in the shape of Internazionale's Alessandro Mazzola and Milan's Giovanni Rivera, Italy took a first-half lead through Ezio Pascutti and pulled clear late in the game with goals from Giacinto Facchetti and Bruno Mora. So Scotland were out, giving England a clear run at the World Cup.

verdict Mama mia-gony.