They say that you always remember your first. Mine was France ’98.
Cast your mind back 20 years. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal had just won the league and cup double, current England manager Gareth Southgate was plying his trade at Aston Villa, and Trent Alexander-Arnold had yet to be born(!!)
My only experience of watching an international tournament had been Euro 96, and so, I expected big things from England, but I also expected big things from every game. The first of which, on the 10th June 1998, was Brazil vs Scotland. It was the World Cup holders vs Craig Brown’s tartan army. It was Ronaldo vs Colin Hendry, Rivaldo vs Colin Calderwood. Two of those things are not like the others. It was supposed to be a mismatch of epic proportions, but what transpired was an entertaining and somewhat fraught match in Paris.
Throughout the whole tournament, it seemed like France was bathed in continual sunshine, I remember Dario G’s ‘Carnaval de Paris’ – the theme music for the BBC’s coverage, and a song that still evokes wonderful memories – and I remember the Scottish team entering the Stade de France wearing their traditional kilts. The sight of Hendry leading the team around the ground is one that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
The match itself got off to a frenetic start. Brazil’s Cesar Sampaio scored after just four minutes, a header from a corner beating Aberdeen’s Jim Leighton.
Brown’s men refused to buckle, they shored things up and cut off the supply to Ronaldo. In the 38th minute, Blackburn Rovers’ Kevin Gallagher won the Scots a penalty, fouled by the aforementioned Sampaio. Up stepped John Collins, who was then plying his trade at Monaco. He calmly slotted the ball down and past Claudio Tafferel’s right hand side. The underdogs were back in the game.
Collins later said “It was only after the game, when I was sitting on the bus, that I thought: ‘If I’d missed that I’d be remembered for it for the rest of my life”. Luckily for him, and the 1.7 billion people watching from around the world, he scored.
Scotland were now back in the game and taking it to their more illustrious opponents. This was a team with a near 40-year-old goalkeeper in between the sticks, a veteran who went unplayed through his nation’s World Cup run in 1982. All three centre-backs were between 32 and 33-years-old, and were up against a devastatingly quick 21-year-old Ronaldo, who had the previous year broken the world record transfer fee for the second time. To label this a mismatch is an understatement.
The sides were level at half-time. If Mauro Zagello wanted to change things up for Brazil he could call upon Denilson, a future World Cup winner, or perhaps eventual Bayern Munich midfielder Ze Roberto.
Brown had much less star quality on his bench to work with. Amongst others it featured David Weir, Scott Gemmill and Billy McKinlay.
Brown’s men managed to stay in the game and cut off Brazil’s danger men through most of the second half, but as we know Brazil finally managed to find a winner. In the 74th minute Scotland conceded for the second time in the cruellest of circumstances, a flick from Cafu, hit the onrushing Leighton before ricocheting into Celtic’s Tom Boyd and into the net.
But the Scots refused to buckle. They pushed forward trying to find an equalizer but couldn’t find a way past Taffarel.
It wasn’t their day, but still proved to the highlight of their tournament as the Scots went on to pick up a point against Norway before losing 3-0 against Morocco.
Brazil’s tournament couldn’t have been any more different. They beat Morocco 3-0, before losing the last game of the group stage against Norway. This was enough to win Group A, setting them up for successive wins against Chile, Denmark and the Netherlands to reach their second consecutive final. However, it wasn’t meant to be as a Zinedine Zidane inspired France beat them 3-0 in Paris.
France 98 can and should be viewed as a high point for Scottish football. Not only did they take on the world’s best, but they also attacked them and tried to find their way back against young and combative opposition. There hasn’t been a whole host of highlights for Scotland since ’98 either. They lost a play off against England to reach Euro 2000, and suffered a similar fate against the Netherlands over a two-legged qualifier to reach Euro 2004. Twenty years on from 1998 and Scotland haven’t qualified for a major tournament since.
Brazil on the other hand. Well that’s a different story altogether.