The Coach: Caution led to passback ban and the game changed forever

As Scotland manager in 1990, Andy Roxburgh suffered the shock of losing to Costa Rica. Now Uefa's technical director, he recalls that disappointment and reflects on the way football has changed in the 20 years since
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The Independent Online

We qualified for that World Cup by knocking out France and then beat Argentina, the reigning world champions, a few months before it started. I wish we hadn't started against an almost unknown team in Costa Rica – it would have been better for us to play one of the well-established sides. There are a number of reasons why we didn't get off to a good start – more to do with us than anybody else – but we just literally had a bad day.

If it had ended up a dull 0-0, we would still have qualified, but it didn't. Having suffered the shock, we then had to face up to Sweden, who had barely lost a game for two years. Because of all the negativity we had an enormous challenge to get back on track but all credit to our boys, they did that – they managed to win 2-1.

Against Brazil on a terrible night in Turin we were taking at least a draw out of the game and then had this freak late goal that pulled the carpet from under our feet. It left us frustrated. I thought we had the ability to become the first Scottish team to go to the next level and because of this freakish result in the opening game we didn't do it. There was terrible frustration and it still lives with me.

In the history of World Cups, Italia 90 was the lowest-scoring. Many teams were still trying to play, trying to be creative, but if you look at it, a lot of the games were not exactly thrillers. In that era there was this feeling that you could be successful by being cautious. From 1986 to 1991, we had three European Cup finals that were 0-0 and went to penalties. It was very tough, very disciplined, and with many of the games you couldn't describe them as high-risk.

A number of elements at that time needed to be corrected and they were. The passback rule was changed – that was one way of killing the game, pass it back to the keeper and he would pick it up. A lot of people have said to me the best change that ever happened was when you couldn't pass it back because that took an element of negativity out of the game and speeded it up.

The next World Cup in 1994 was the first time we had three points for a win. Holland drew three games in the first round in Italy and got through, while we won a match [in Italy] and got two points. There is no doubt the move to three points was done deliberately to make teams try to win and not play for a draw. There was a better reward if you went for it.

You also had intense pressure from Fifa about tackling from the back to protect players who were creative. So there were a number of things that triggered a reaction.

The game has also become faster, more technical, and probably more spectacular. Part of that is television. The satellite went up and the impact was enormous. Because of the intense scrutiny of teams with wall-to-wall satellite TV, people were under far more pressure to win games and also play in a more attractive way. Over the last 20 years, you can't hide any more. Even if you are winning, if the performances are poor then you'll be attacked almost as much as for having bad results.

Since Italia 90, when Cameroon reached the last eight, the African dimension has increased dramatically in European football. We see the likes of Didier Drogba and what they have brought is athleticism and fantastic skill. The game has become this marriage between skill and speed, and African players have added to that.

A lot of very good players have come to Europe from Africa and that benefits their national teams. No one should be surprised if African teams do well in the World Cup.

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