For 16 heady minutes here last night, Scotland had one foot in the quarter- finals of a major tournament for the first time. Had the scores stayed as they were, with the Scots leading 1-0 and the Dutch trailing England by four goals, no amount of coefficients and calculators could have denied them.
Then Patrick Kluivert scored through the goalkeeper's legs 100 miles to the south, and even frantic Scottish pressure could not produce a goal to add to Ally McCoist's 19th in the dark blue. Yet again it was their fate to be gallant failures - eliminated because they scored fewer goals than the Dutch - though the second half of that tag does not do justice to a display brimming with passion.
Midway through the first half came the the first of four good news bulletins from Wembley. Seldom, if ever, can an English goal have been greeted so rapturously by a Scottish crowd. "Get intae them," they roared, followed by the almost pleading refrain of "Give us a goal".
By then Scotland ought to have given them three. Gary McAllister, who was to leave the pitch in tears, was evidently intent upon fulfilling his promise to give the performance of his life after Saturday's penalty from hell. The intensity he inspired was of a kind more commonly associated with wet Saturdays at Ibrox or Celtic Park than balmy evenings in Brum.
McCoist had been given his first start of the tournament, and Craig Brown's decision to recall the Rangers striker might have been dramatically vindicated twice during a blistering opening burst by the Scots.
In the sixth minute, after Craig Burley's corner was helped on by an overhead kick from Gordan Durie, McCoist's shot sent it against the underside of the bar from the edge of the six-yard area. Switzerland had not had time to regroup before Tosh McKinlay's deep cross was hooked back to virtually the identical spot. McCoist, unmarked, controlled the ball but hesitated just long enough to allow Marco Pascolo to come hurtling off the line to block with his left foot.
Burley also blazed horribly wide in the 12th minute, but the breakthrough Scotland craved finally came nine minutes before half-time. A measured pass by McAllister found Stephane Henchoz backing off McCoist. From a far less favourable position, 22 yards out, his rising drive ended the Scots' run of 387 minutes without a goal.
It should, of course, have been McCoist's hat-trick goal. Thereafter, the problem was one of maintaining the furious tempo they had established, especially after Artur Jorge reinforced his midfield in the second half.
Even with fresh faces, however, the Swiss were bereft of belief and ideas. Johann Vogel, a match for Paul Gascoigne 10 days earlier, was fortunate not to deplete his side when he cut down John Collins minutes after being shown the yellow card.
Vogel rode his luck again by tugging McAllister back as the captain broke from midfield. While the Swiss seemed to be losing their heads, England's fourth goal was the signal for Brown to come off the bench counselling calmness.
The Scotland manager was wasting his breath. Durie drove a rasping shot almost down Pascolo's neck; Ramon Vega was close to an own goal with a desperate headed clearance; while McAllister was denied a goal by the goalkeeper's alert catch after Collins had unloaded Vega.
The introduction of Scott Booth briefly gave Scotland fresh impetus, the newcomer almost knocking Pascolo over his line with the force of his angled shot. Suddenly, the class of Kluivert meant that Scotland required another goal themselves. It almost came when McAllister's centre found Booth rising unchallenged only for the ball to skim the substitute's head and and pass behind.
Colin Hendry finished the match at centre-forward, a necessary gamble which led to Kubilay Turkyilmaz having a free header that Andy Goram clawed out brilliantly. But while Scotland had been betrayed by their all too familiar failings in front of goal, they took their leave of the finals to a thunderous ovation, and with hope renewed for the World Cup campaign.
Goal: McCoist (36) 1-0.
SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Goram (Rangers); Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyd (Celtic); Burley (Chelsea), McCall (Rangers), McAllister (Leeds), Collins, T McKinlay (both Celtic); McCoist, Durie (both Rangers). Substitutes: Booth (Aberdeen) for T McKinlay, 60; Spencer (Chelsea) for McCoist, 84.
SWITZERLAND (4-3-1-2): Pascolo (Servette); Hottiger (Everton), Vega (Grasshopper), Henchoz (Hamburg), Quentin (Sion); Vogel, Koller (both Grasshopper), Bonvin (Sion); Sforza (Bayern Munich); Turkyilmaz (Grasshopper), Chapuisat (Borussia Dortmund). Substitutes: Wicky (Sion) for Koller, h- t; Fournier (Sion) for Chapuisat, h-t; Comisetti (Grasshopper) for Quentin, 81.
Referee: V Krondl (Czech Republic)
Bookings: Scotland: Calderwood, McCall, Collins. Switzerland: Vega, Vogel, Wicky, Fournier.
Man of the match: McAllister. Attendance: 34,926 (at Villa Park).Reuse content