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17 October 2014

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Scotland Open the World Cup 1998

John Collins faces Ronaldo

© SNSpix

It was undoubtedly the biggest stage on which Scotland's national football side have ever performed. Paris in the June sunshine and the Stade de France was packed to the rafters for the inaugural fixture of the 1998 World Cup. Indeed the brand new French national stadium, situated in the industrial northern suburb of St Denis, could never have coped with the demand for tickets even if it had been capable holding four times its 80,000 capacity. Over 60,000 Scots were estimated to have descended on Paris for this fixture against the cream of world football, for the opposition that summer's day were none other than the four-times winners, the world champions, the inventors of 'samba soccer', the one and only Brazil.

The build up to this game had gone on for months beforehand, indeed ever since the draw had pitted the Scots and the South American superstars together. Many Scottish families organised their summer holidays around this fixture and even though the chances of getting a ticket were wafer thin, the game created a huge buzz around the Scottish football scene. Many fans felt the need to just be in Paris for this game. Nothing else seemed to matter in the days before the game. Scotland versus Brazil dominated the news, getting hours of television coverage, pages and pages of newspaper space and practically taking over the radio airwaves. This was the nearest that Scotland had ever been to a World Cup Final and every Scot was being encouraged to enjoy the occasion.

On the morning of 10th June 1998, the day of the game, one of the Scottish tabloid newspapers carried a full, front-page image of a very distinctive cloud formation, in the shape of a saltire, St Andrew's Cross, which had been photographed over a clear blue Paris sky the previous afternoon. Their line was that this was a sure sign from the heavens that the Scots would triumph in this their greatest footballing moment.

The nerves were jangling as the Scottish team had to endure the endless trials of the tournament's opening ceremony, before both sets of players finally took to the field.
After a rousing rendition of “Flower of Scotland”, from both players and the massed tartan-clad fans who had managed to get into the stadium, the Spanish referee Senor Aranda blew his whistle and the 1998 World Cup was started.

Brazilian fans in the Stade de France

© SNSpix

The early exchanges were littered with elementary errors, no doubt fuelled by nerves on this momentous occasion. During this period, Scotland conceded an early goal, giving us the worst of possible starts. Rivaldo curled in a corner to the near-post, big defender Cesar Sampaio rose unchallenged at the six-yard box and powerfully headed the ball goalwards and past Leighton. The ball hit the net and with Hendry, Collins and Burley all looking accusingly at each other the world champions wheeled away and celebrated together. The goal, which had put Scotland behind, was in essence so simple and so easily preventable. It was the type of goal which one could see at any Scottish ground on any given Saturday. Conceding a goal so early had really given Scotland a mountain to climb. Craig Brown's men would have to show remarkable character just to avoid a drubbing from here.

Yet, from the ashes of disaster the phoenix did rise. Scotland showed a composure and class that had been rarely been evident in recent years and this, combined with an indomitable fighting spirit, saw them slowly but surely find their way back into the game.

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