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Reliving Scotland’s Adventures At Euro 96

Date: 10th October 2019

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Scotland are still holding out hope that they can qualify for next summer’s European Championships. It looks like our best chance will come through our Nations League Play-Off place rather than qualifying via our qualification group.

But if we do qualify, no one will really care how we did it! 

With that in mind, I thought I’d look back at the last time we managed to get ourselves to the Euros. 

It was Euro 96′ in England, a simple car journey for the thousands of Tartan Army fans that had planned to attend/invade. 

Our route to that competition was just as uninspiring as getting there via a play-off. We managed to finish in second place to Russia in our group. It’s pretty coincidental that Russia are now our next opponents in our current qualification group. Anyway we finished above Greece and Finland, collecting twenty-three points in the process. That meant we were one of the best runners-up and that saw us head across the border in the following summer. 

We then had the draw.

Fate would see us draw our longest and biggest rivals England at their home tournament. It was an exciting draw. To add to that we also got selected alongside The Netherlands and Switzerland. Scotland was judged to be the weakest nation in this group and it was going to be a very tough couple of weeks! 

Scotland had a pragmatic coach in Craig Brown. History now tells us that we actually had a good gaffer in Brown, who could get the most from his squads. Yes he would divide opinion with his selections and he seemed too keen to point to pointless stats as bonuses like winning more corners than our opponents in games we’d just drawn but all in all he seemed to have us punching above our weight. 

The Scot’s started their campaign on June the 10th against the mighty Dutch. 

To give you an idea how strong the Netherlands side were that day, they had six starters players that had won the Champions League with Ajax the previous year. 

In Guus Hiddink they also had an extremely talented coach, who had won three Eredivisie titles and the European Cup with PSV by that point. 

They also had a world class forward in Dennis Bergkamp leading the line, named after Scottish great Denis Law

Scotland were expected to come unstuck that day in Birmingham. 

Brown decided to go with three up-front with Scott Booth, Gordon Durie and Kevin Gallagher all starting. All three were known to be workhorses though and they were set out to press, make challenges and chase back. 

One of the biggest choices for our boss was to decide who started in goals. Aberdeen legend Jim Leighton seemed to be the number one choice given that he was handed the number one jersey but Craig swerved us all by selecting Rangers goalie Andy Goram

It turned out to be an inspired choice. In fairness in the 90s, Goram was the superior goalkeeper and he had a habit of performing heroics on the big stage. 

This was probably his best game in a Scotland jersey as he set about saving most of the chances that fell the way of the opposition. There’s no doubt we had our backs against the wall for the most part in that game. Our defence made some timely interventions and our midfield three of John Collins, Stuart McCall and Gary McAllister were terrific that day too. 

Clarence Seedorf couldn’t get beyond Goram and then the Scottish shot-stopper expertly saved with his feet to deny Bergkamp! 

I mentioned Scotland’s midfield and they were terrific. McCall always seemed to work his socks off and he made a great last ditch challenge in the box to deny the Dutch a certain goal. Captain McAllister was probably our biggest attacking threat that day, even though we started with three forwards. He produced a majestic free-kick in the first-half that Edwin van der Saar scrambling to claw away from his top corner. 

Yet it was the cultured Collins that made the biggest impact that day. John was a polished performer, who was very good on the ball and had an eye for a key pass. That being said his contribution came on his own goal-line as he cleared the only chance to beat Goram off the line. Yes he did it with his hand and yes it looked obvious but in the times before VAR we actually got away with one. 

The game ended in a 0-0 draw and the loud and proud Tartan Army celebrated as if we had just won the tournament. It was a diligent display and we played as a team with a lot of heart and passion. 

The Auld Enemy were next at their home of Wembley but they too had failed to win their opening encounter, drawing with Switzerland.

England were managed by the affable Terry Venables. A manager that might rub up owners and boards the wrong way but had the support of fans and players alike. The former Barcelona boss liked to play his side in a Christmas tree formation, with Teddy Sheringham playing just behind prolific marksman Alan Shearer

For the opening half, the Scots once again looked dogged and disciplined. If anything we seemed more confident as the occasion as it went on. Brown went for a more rigid 4-4-2 formation with full-back Tosh McKinlay playing in midfield. 

Sensing his team needed to push more for a victory, England coach Venables brought off left-back Stuart Pearce and brought on Jamie Redknapp. This allowed Paul Gascoigne to push further forward. 

The hosts were rewarded early on in the second period for their more adventurous change with Shearer powering home a header in the fifty-third minute. England seemed to get a boost from that opening goal and went chasing for a quick second. Goram again had to be at his best as he dived down to stop Sheringham’s header sneaking in. 

Scotland then started to get a foothold back in the game, silencing the opposition fans almost constant rendition of summer anthem ‘Three Lions‘ as England began to defend nervously. Gordon Durie leapt up like a Salmon at the back post but unfortunately David Seaman produced a wonderful save to palm the chance onto his post. 

Our talismanic striker Ally McCoist was then thrown on in the sixty-seventh minute. Super Ally was the best Scottish finisher of his generation and if anyone could get us a goal it was going to be him. 

Then came our big moment!

McAllister played a fantastic diagonal ball out to the right wing. Stuart McCall then crossed low into the box and the oncoming bandaged Durie was floored by England captain Tony Adams. Italian referee Pierluigi Pairetto pointed to the spot and time stood still. 

Personally, I was fully expecting Ally to grab the ball and place it on the spot. But it was our captain Gary McAllister that took on the pressure of sending his nation into delirium. Gary was superb at set-pieces and was a great hitter of the ball. 

The midfielder didn’t look overly comfortable as he stepped forward. To make things worse, the ball then inexplicably moved as he began to run towards it. The Scottish captain struck it fairly well but saw his shot cannon off Seaman’s elbow and over the bar. 

Hope soon disappeared into heartache, isn’t it always the way with Scotland? 

The Scots conceded a freekick from the resultant corner and Seaman smashed it up field. Sheringham then helped it on to Darren Anderton. The Tottenham man then found Gascoigne charging forwards. Gazza at this point was playing his football in Scotland with champions Rangers. He collected the ball at the edge of the Scottish penalty area, he would then lob it expertly over a despairing Colin Hendry before volleying beyond Gers teammate Andy Goram. 

That was it, Scotland couldn’t recover from that dagger to our heart! 

We headed into our final group game against the Swiss knowing only a win would give us a chance of qualification. 

We were three points behind England and the Dutch but they were playing each other at the same time as our fixture. If we could get a win and one of the others could smash the other, then we stood a chance. Yes a slim chance but a chance nevertheless. 

McCoist was given his first start of the Euros. He was the man Craig Brown trusted to get us that winning strike. 

Switzerland were fairly decent in the mid-90s with standout players like Ciriaco Sforza, Stèphane Chapuisat and Kubilay Türkylimaz. But their main successes had come under English coach Roy Hodgson who had left them as soon as the Swiss side had qualified for Euro 96. 

It’s safe to say that the Swiss team were playing like a side that were transitioning from one coach to another. 

Within the first five minutes in the Midlands chances dropped to Ally inside the Swiss penalty area and both times saw keeper Marco Pascolo come out on top. 

At Wembley, England scored a penalty to give them the lead over The Netherlands. That meant that Scotland needed to score to go level on points with the Oranje. 

On the thirty-sixth minute at Villa Park, in what was basically a home game for the Scots, the ball found it’s way to the feet of McCoist again. The thing about Super Ally is that he won’t let missed chances play on his mind. He received it outside of the penalty area and he struck it sweetly with his right foot and fired into the back of the net! 

McCoist emotionally ran towards his coach, thanking Brown for starting him. The Tartan Army fans were kissing each other, screaming with delight and hoping that they could finally break past the group stages of a major tournament. 

For that to happen they needed a hand from their fiercest rivals, England. 

At halftime it was 1-0 Scotland and 1-0 England. Scotland needed a three goal swing to get through. Either score more themselves or The Three Lions would have to score three more without reply from The Dutch. 

Scotland struggled to break down the Switzerland defence but at Wembley something magical was happening. In an eleven minute spell between the fifty-first minute and the sixty-second minute England were just unstoppable and they were now leading 4-0! 

Scotland were in dreamland and at this stage we were going through on goal difference. The Scottish fans were listening to the radio and for once were jubilant and cheering on England! Each of the English goals were met with roars from the Scots in the stands. 

Could this actually happen? 

The boys in navy blue tartan continued to push forward knowing if they scored it would give the Dutch an almighty task. But each chance produced was spurned. Collins, Durie and Booth all tried and ultimately failed. 

Villa Park then fell silent in the seventy-eighth minute as news reached of Dutch goal at Wembley. A superb save from Goram kept our dreams alive with minutes remaining. 

Sadly it wasn’t meant to be as we once again succumbed to a courageous nearly moment. We ended just losing out on qualification by a single goal. 

If the current Scotland team need to understand what it takes to be a great Scottish team and what’s needed to qualify for the Euros, then they just need to re-watch our games from 1996. 

We played as a team. We fought together and stayed disciplined throughout. They were passionate, hungry and played for the jersey. They made our fans proud and that’s all we ever ask for from our team!

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