Memories of World Cup 1998 evoked by Scotland’s friendly clash with Brazil

Scotland face Brazil on Sunday in a friendly at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, the 10th meeting between the sides and the first since a 2-1 victory for the South Americans in the 1998 World Cup. In the opening game of the tournament Scotland took on the defending champions in front of 80,000 supporters packed into Paris’ Stade de France and only lost to a late Tom Boyd own goal after a credible showing. The game marked the beginning of the end for Scotland in major competitions, and the Tartan Army have not been present at any of the six World Cups or European Championships since.

A glance at the respective XIs that took to the field on June 10 shows the gulf in class Scotland were fighting against. Brazil’s backline featured such luminaries as Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Aldair, with then-captain and former Coach Dunga in midfield and a Ronaldo in his prime spearheading the attack. For their part, Scotland boasted Paul Lambert, a Champions League winner in 1997 with Borussia Dortmund, John Collins, a 1998 Champions League semi-finalist with Monaco and Premier League winner Colin Hendry, the rock on which Blackburn Rovers’ 1995 title triumph was built – three experienced, successful players and standouts amongst a squad of dedicated journeymen as the only ones to have tasted major success outside of Scotland. The exceptions were experienced goalkeeper Jim Leighton, then 39, an FA Cup winner with Manchester United in 1990, and Scott Booth, a squad player with Lambert at Dortmund.

The party that went to France in Scottish colours greatly lacked the experience and trophy haul of the players who 12 years earlier travelled to Mexico for World Cup 1986, led by Graeme Souness, then 33, but a multi-time title winner with Liverpool, Barcelona’s Steve Archibald and Gordon Strachan, part of Manchester United’s midfield and a European Cup Winners’ Cup winner at Aberdeen under Alex Ferguson. No amount of trophies could prevent Scotland finishing bottom of the group, however, behind Denmark, West Germany and Uruguay, the same fate as 1998 when the Scots propped up Group A, beneath Brazil, Norway and Morocco. Matters somewhat improved at the next World Cup in 1990 when Scotland finished third in their group, but then had to wait until 1998 for another tilt at international glory, suggesting the current drought of absences from international competition is not so much a major decline in standards but more a slight drop-off in quality.

This generation of Scotland players cannot claim even the success of those that went to France ’98, particularly without Darren Fletcher, missing through injury. That said, as shown when the sides last met, Scotland are always capable of unsettling the game’s elite, especially when roared on by their fanatical, ferocious support, and indeed, the fixture is nearly sold out. The neutrals in the crowd at the Emirates Stadium may be there to see players from both Milan clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid in the famous yellow shirt, but few would begrudge the passionate Tartan Army and their players a first glorious victory over the five-time World Cup winners.

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