Scotland The Day The World Champions Stood In The Way Of Hampden Glory

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Scotland The Day The World Champions Stood In The Way Of Hampden Glory

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that to travel in hope is better than to arrive. He must have been a member of the Tartan Army.

A downtrodden group for whom the journey with no end is all there has been for more than two decades now. But this time, right? THIS time…

The biennial start-afresh mantra renewed like clockwork since failure became a habit that couldn’t be kicked in 1999. Seven different managers, 11 campaigns, each finding a different way to break your heart.

This time, though, right? THIS time…

One game. One win over Serbia. All we need to finally lay the ghost of flops and catastrophes past to rest and qualify our men’s team for a first major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

Which won’t be easy. But at least it’ll be easier than the last time we were one win away, in 2007 when the world champions had to be beaten. And we so nearly did.

The Group of Death is every draw’s cliche, but Euro 2008’s Group B was the very definition. Scotland were fourth seeds, behind World Cup winners Italy, runners-up France, and quarter-finalists Ukraine. Lithuania, the Faroes and Georgia made up the numbers.

Incredibly, with two games left, we were in. A remarkable 24 points from 10 games, a point behind France, whom we’d beaten home and away, and a point above Italy. Four points would have done it. Three at a push. Maybe even one.

And then we went to Tbilisi. Four straight wins, including that mesmeric night in Paris, and a 17-year-old rookie in the nets at the other end. What could possibly go wrong? That 2-0 defeat left us needing to beat Italy in our last game, or at the very worst get a draw and then hope for Ukraine beating France.

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David Weir: “It’s one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever played in. It was a 5 o’clock kick-off on a Saturday, plenty of drink had been taken, it was a damp night under the lights – pretty much the perfect Scottish football environment.”

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Lee McCulloch: “The build-up was so different. Bagpipers seeing us on to the bus at Mar Hall. Thousands in a tent on Glasgow Green watching it on big screens. I remember a book in the dressing room full of good luck messages from bands and celebrities. It was some night.”

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Gordon Smith, then Scottish FA CEO: “Qualifying is good for the national psyche for sure but from a financial point of view it’s massive, it was the best part of £10m, even back then. You need that to run every aspect of the game.”

Weir: “The Georgia game hurt us. I remember the controversy over Scott Brown and Alan Hutton pulling out – then playing the Old Firm game three days later. But world champions or not, there was no lack of confidence we could beat Italy.”

Scotland The Day The World Champions Stood In The Way Of Hampden Glory

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