Scotland in the World Cup

Scotland's World Cup record - a re-appraisal. SPL players in the 2002 tournament.


Scots Myths

What are the biggest - ever World Cup shocks? And how many of them have featured Scotland? Have a look at the World Cup Archive website - far better than FIFA’s official site - and prepare to be surprised. For we don’t feature at all. USA v England, North Korea V Italy, Northern Ireland V Spain, Cameroon V Argentina and Senegal V France are all seismic in their impact. Scotland’s upsets just don’t register.

You might argue that in order to qualify for giant-killing you have to be a Goliath in the first place but maybe it’s time to put our World Cup efforts into perspective. For a start Scotland have won only four out of 23 games in eight World Cups. Yet we still manage to be astonished each time we fail to progress beyond the group stages. Perhaps we still have a lingering touch of arrogance . Two of these wins were against weak opposition in Zaire and New Zealand, one was against a Dutch team that could afford to lose by two clear goals and still qualify and the fourth was against a Swedish side that promptly mimicked Scotland by losing their next match to Costa Rica.

So how bad have we been. Let’s start with the first ‘modern’ World Cup - West Germany, 1974. We beat Zaire and drew with Brazil and Yugoslavia, returning home as the only undefeated side in the tournament. Yet failure to hammer Zaire by more goals was widely perceived to be a letdown. But was it? The only reason we didn’t go through was thanks to a freak goal ten minutes from time as Brazil struggled against the African side just as much as we did. Take that away and it would have been the Brazilians on the first flight home - not the Scots.

Argentina 1978. How can a case for the defence be made here? Well, we over-hyped ourselves, that’s for sure and the 3-1 loss to Peru was a sore one to take, particularly as we led and also missed a penalty. But a major shock? Hardly. Peru reached the last eight in Mexico in 1970 and were only beaten 4-2 by Brazil. A lot of their players from that campaign were still active in 1978, notably Hector Chumpitaz. Conditions favoured them - not many European teams win against South Americans in that continent. To me, it was the equivalent of losing to a European team in the second rank of powers. Imagine we had been beaten 3-1 by Yugoslavia four years previously . Bad result? Yes. Disgrace? No.

Iran is a different matter entirely. There can be no excuses for our failure to win this match. One of the genuine dark moments in our history.

Move on to Spain, 1982, The general perception is that we lost out on qualification on goal difference for the third time in succession because we didn’t do enough against New Zealand. Nonsense. We beat them 5-2. The same margin as the USSR (3-0). As goals scored take precedence in event of a tie,we actually had the BETTER result against the group minnows.

The real reason we lost out was simple. Brazil beat us 4-1 but the Soviets held them to 2-1. OK, the Miller/Hansen debacle in the 2-2 draw against the Russians didn’t help but again, there was no disgrace here.

1986 speaks for itself. Losing by a single goal to both Denmark and West Germany was no humiliation and while a failure to beat ten-man Uruguay was frustrating, again it was not an earth-shattering result.

Costa Rica in 1990 was though. There’s no denying that. But, unlike Iran, the performance wasn’t poor. We peppered their goal with shots and none went in. You could argue it was a fluke but for the fact that the Costa Ricans then gave Brazil a hard time before going on to beat Sweden. And no one accuses the Swedes of being a soft touch for weaker sides.

1998 didn’t bring disaster either . We made a contest of our game with Brazil, and were unlucky to only draw with Norway. Morocco outclassed us but the days when African sides (and North African in particular) could be regarded as cannon fodder were long over by then. Only the most blinkered xenophobe could say the result was a disgrace.

However, let’s travel back further. To Scotland’s first two World Cups. 1954 brought defeat against Austria and humiliation at the hands of Uruguay. The then reigning World Champions hammered us 7-0. I’m not saying Scotland should have beaten Uruguay - they had never lost a World Cup match in their history at that point. But I am adamant that no Scotland team should have lost by that margin.

Four years later, in Sweden, Scotland were beaten by a Paraguay team, playing in their first overseas World Cup. In Northern Europe, against such opposition, that result was a true disaster. Yet we never seem to hear of it. And not just because it was so long ago. My God, Argentina was nearly a quarter of a century ago but it still scars the national psyche.

Perhaps we lacked the arrogance that we displayed later. I don’t know. What I do know is that by any rational standards this was a far worse result than Zaire, Peru, Iran, New Zealand, and - dare I say it - Costa Rica. At least the Costa Ricans won another game and made the next round.

And in qualifying for major tournaments our record against the ‘lesser’ countries is actually rather good - those draws against Estonia and the Faeroes apart. We regularly take maximum home points in such fixtures and seldom slip up away. Even when we drop points it is rarely central to the outcome of the group.

Certainly, there is nothing in our record to compare with Ireland’s draw in Liechtenstein. Yet, just like the Swedes, no one accuses the Irish of being a soft touch, do they? Time, I think “ tae see ourselves as ithers see us” and accept that we are a mid-ranking European power which rarely under-performs or for that matter over-performs either.

What that means is that we should be able to be in the top 16 in Europe, the best 32 in the world and competing regularly in major tournaments. That’s the standard we have to get back to.


That same World Cup Archive site also lists the top ten goals in the competition's history. Archie Gemmill’s against Holland is at Number Eight. Number One? Maradona V England in 1986 - no, not THAT one, his second goal, when he skipped past the entire team to score. Diego is also numero uno on the FIFA site where the second best is Michael Owen against Argentina in 1998 and Archie isn’t even rated. See, I told you the unofficial site was better.


When the Ecuadorians go up....

Now here’s a surprise. No fewer than EIGHT of the countries competing in the World Cup have less players from their domestic leagues taking part than the SPL.

The Scottish-based players total six in all. Larrson and Mjallby of Celtic are both with Sweden, Rangers have Caniggia with Argentina and Lovenkrands of Denmark. Also in the Danish camp is Aberdeen keeper Kjaer and De La Cruz of Hibs is with Ecuador.

It’s a modest tally really, but it’s better than all three of England’s opponents can claim. Nigeria and Argentina have only two home-based players in their squads, (though the Argentine League has five players at the tournament) and the Swedes have three and one Danish player also plies his trade in Sweden.

The leagues of Croatia, Senegal and South Africa all have fewer than the SPL while there are no players whatsoever at the World Cup who earn their corn in Cameroon or Ireland.

But don’t get too carried away. SPL representation is just ahead of fellow non-qualifiers Switzerland where five World Cup players are based. And even minnows Slovenia can boast six home players in their squad.

The best represented league from non-qualifiers is, unsurprisingly, Holland. There are 22 players at this World Cup who play their domestic football in the Dutch League.

And if you really needed proof of the pulling power of the ‘Big Five’ the World Cup provides it. An amazing 100 players at this tournament will be on show in England next season and nearly twenty of these are outside the Premiership. Even if you deduct the 44 English-based players from the England and Ireland squads, that’s some figure.

There will be 80 players from Serie A and close on 60 from both the Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga. The French Championnat is the ‘worst’ of the big boys with just under 50 players in the tournament, including almost all the Senegal squad.

And what sort of computer programme has thrown up these figures? None. This was all done by laboriously counting with pen and paper. It’s amazing what you can get up to on the worst weekend of the year. By worst weekend I mean the one between the last of the domestic action - the Junior Cup Final - and the start of the World Cup.

But the hiatus is almost over. Let the action begin. Come on you Swedes/Argentinians/Nigerians.


Last word for now on the World Cup. Soccernet have a fine history section on their site which includes this gem from the 1950 tournament “After a loss to Spain, England were out of the tournament, and the arrogance that came with them removed forever in a matter of a week.”

Must be a misprint. I’m sure it should read “arrogance that forever came with them was removed for a week.




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