Having rather enjoyed going back in time in my previous World Cup posts, I thought it only right to continue this little series, and refocus on some of the best and most memorable moments of the 1998 World Cup.
Little did we all know in the late 1990s that we’d be looking back now, on a group stage campaign where Scotland picked up one measly point, with great fondness. The last time Scotland qualified for a major tournament came in the France-based festival of football, and with it came the usual outpouring of carefree misplaced optimism and subsequent basking in the tepid glow of spectacular failure.
Scotland were even given the privilege of the opening game in France, against the holders and perennial Scotland World Cup opponents, Brazil. A creditable 2-1 defeat followed, with Tommy Boyd being rather unfortunate to give Brazil all three points, John Collins’ penalty having cancelled out Cesar Sampaio’s opening goal.
In the Norway match, Craig Brown put more faith in younger stars Jackie McNamara, David Weir and Craig Burley (yup, it really was that long ago). Harvard Flo’s opening goal for Norway was cancelled out by a deft flick over the Norwegian keeper’s bonce by Burley. Scotland pressed for a winner but no winning goal was to come.
And then of course came that most terrible of Scottish emotions – hope. If we could beat Morocco, who’d been hammered by Brazil and lucky to draw with Norway, and if Brazil could beat Norway (surely they would), then at last Scotland would make the last 16 of a World Cup.
Of course, it all ended terribly. Scotland put in by far their worst performance of the three matches, losing 3-0 to a Morocco side who played with verve, style and panache. In the end even that result proved redundant as the Norwegians beat Brazil and went through to the second round with the South American behemoths.
And that was it. For those of us old enough to remember it, the abiding memory of Scotland’s last appearance at an international tournament involves Jim Leighton flapping a Moroccan shot into his net, and Tommy Boyd scoring for Brazil. There’s always France 2016.
African sides in the World Cup had been, and still are, jinxed by Pele’s proclamation that a side from Africa would win the World Cup before the end of the 20th century. The Nigerian side of 1998 were the African team who got closest to winning the tournament in the final World Cup of the last century.
The Nigerians’ first match came against then-eternal-underachievers Spain. Spain’s decision to stick with pensionable goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta proved their undoing as his mistakes allowed Nigeria to record a 3-2 win, an enormous shock.
This was swiftly followed with a 1-0 win against a Bulgaria side who were nowhere near their 1994 vintage.
Nigeria ended the group stage with their traditional “we’re already through so who cares if we lose” performance, being beaten 3-1 by Jose Luis Chilavert’s Paraguay. As a result, Spain’s 6-1 thumping of Bulgaria was rendered meaningless and the Spaniards crossed the Pyrenees in shame as Nigeria and Paraguay both advanced.
In the second round, Nigeria were to face Denmark. At this point the hype took over, with reference to Pele’s meaningless proclamation, in that Nigeria had a wonderful opportunity to make the quarter finals and match Cameroon’s performance in 1990 against the Danes, who were still themselves reminiscing about their Euro 92 win.
As it turned out, Nigeria were blown away by a double-Laudrup inspired Denmark, losing 4-1. Still, they briefly captivated the world with that win against Spain, and players like Taribo West and Victor Ikpeba were introduced to us all. Nigeria, at the very least in 1998, brought us some great hair.
Finally in part 1 of this round up, probably my favourite side of that World Cup. The Dutch had been knocked out in the quarter finals of Euro 96, having snuck out of the group stages on goals scored ahead of Scotland. That 1996 side was, as ever, plagued with in-fighting, with Edgar Davids seemingly at the head of it.
By the summer of 1998, however, there seemed to be some harmony in the Dutch camp. Having done just about enough to reach the last 16 thanks to a thumping win over South Korea in the groups, they then rallied for a last minute winner against a strong Yugoslav side.
The Dutch only got better when the quarters came round. A match against Argentina which will live not only as one of the greatest World Cup matches of the last 20 years, but featuring one of the greatest goals ever seen at the summer fest du football.
In the 89th minute, a diagonal ball over the top reached Dennis Bergkamp on the right edge of the penalty area. He flicked the ball backwards, cut inside Ayala before deftly using the outside of his right foot to put the ball past Carlos Roa into the top corner.
Unfortunately, the Dutch were then knocked out on penalties by Brazil in the semi final, before losing the 3rd/4th place play-off to Croatia. In my view the 1998 vintage was the best Dutch side I’ve seen. They were certainly a lot better than the side which battered their way through the 2010 final.
I’ll leave 1998 there for now – more again soon.