It is an all too familiar tale for the Tartan Army. The national team is on the cusp of glory. Only to be impeded at the last obstacle.
As a 21-year-old I have not seen Scotland at a tournament in 17 years – the last being World Cup 1998 which I barely remember. I was almost about to join Primary School and was playing FIFA 98 on the original PlayStation. Memories of Song 2 by Blur being blared through the small Trinitron that was situated in the living room.
Now if Scotland fails to qualify for the Euros and return to France next year. I will have progressed through all tertiary educational institutes and the lifecycles of the PlayStation 2 and three without the traditional tournament early exit that is synonymous with those of a generation above. Blur will have likely disbanded again after reuniting in 2008 and cover star David Beckham will have been retired for a good few seasons.
It will have been a footballing generation since my favoured five-a-side team – in the video game of Boyd, Hendry, Lambert, Leighton and Jackson – came close to taking a result from then World Champions Brazil. In that time, those players have been retired for more than a decade.
The bulky TV has been replaced by a flat-screen LCD. The Scart lead swapped for an HDMI cable, and the PlayStation has now been changed for a Xbox One. The two constants that remain are: FIFA is still played on a console and Scotland always end campaigns in glorious defeat.
It was in 1999, that the ‘Auld Enemy’ stood in the way from participating in the tournament hosted in Belgium and the Netherlands. Both teams were paired up in the playoffs courtesy of finishing second in their respective groups, Kevin Keegan’s side finished runners-up based on their head–to-head record against third place Poland.
It was just three short years since Paul Gascoigne made Colin Hendry look more absurd than his blonde mane suggested, and score what many ‘Barmy Army’ supporters consider to be their greatest ever goal. Many did not forget this and wanted to send their supporters down to Wembley with their brass instruments up their bottle and glass.
It did not go to plan, though, as Paul Scholes – the diminutive maestro – put two past Neil Sullivan and took the wind out of the bagpipes. All was not lost as England were on the ropes in that second leg. However, it was to no avail as not even the last English-born player (Don Hutchinson) to score at the old stadium was not enough to qualify.
We fast forward to the first real calamity under the enigma that was Berti Vogts…In fact, scrap that we will be here all day, and it will recall memories that should not be called upon…ever.
Walter Smith came in and showed a semblance of a plan to a talented side that was mismanaged under the German World Cup winner. However, he would cause much discontent amongst the Tartan Army as he slinked off to Ibrox when the chance presented itself – Paul LeGuen imploding in his infamous spell at Rangers.
His replacement was the man that the French League 1 winner replaced on the training ground at Murray Park, Alex McLeish. Apprehension gripped the country. Nobody was sure if he could replicate what Sir Watty had done before him.
Things started well, a two-one win at Hampden against Georgia, then went on to win two of the next three. Victories coming against the Faroes and Lithuania, nothing special but they are games that must be won no matter the qualifying group.
It was that night in the Parc des Princes that fans remember as this was a team that was maybe undertaking something special. James McFadden’s 30-yarder, this generation’s Archie Gemmill of a goal that is aesthetically pleasing, but in the end meant bugger all. A three-one defeat of Ukraine meant a win in Tbilisi would have assured Scotland’s place in the 2008 tournament hosted by Austria and Switzerland.
Did Scotland win, I think we all know the answer to that.
There in lies the worry for Strachan’s side. We have not felt this confident about the national side since 2007, and it can all come unstuck in the former USSR.
A team we should be dispatching without too many headaches, but we know it is never that easy. We are the country that does things the hard way, look at Andy Murray, one of greatest ever sportsmen. You will see a number of times he will be toiling and struggling against an inferior opponent.
So do we dare to dream to make a major tournament for the first time in what will be 18 years by the time rolls around.
The answer is of course we do.
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