France ’98 star Gal­lacher can’t be­lieve it’s been 20 years, but backs Park­head striker to lead Scots to 2022 tour­na­ment


FOR­MER Scot­land striker Kevin Gal­lacher be­lieves that Leigh Grif­fiths can be key to the na­tional team reach­ing an­other ma­jor fi­nals.

Speak­ing as the 20th an­niver­sary of Scot­land’s cur­tain­opener against Brazil looms to­mor­row, Gal­lacher ex­pects that Grif­fiths can have a key role to play as Alex McLeish’s side look to qual­ify for the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships.

“Those goals [against Eng­land] were amaz­ing,” said Gal­lacher. “It is dif­fi­cult to score one set-piece, to do it twice within a mat­ter of min­utes is spe­cial. It is a real talent. But what you also have to look at is that both of our goals came from the free­kicks. We need to be scor­ing goals from open play too. Ev­ery­one knows how dif­fi­cult that is but it is where we need to be go­ing.

“Leigh has taken on the man­tle of re­spon­si­bil­ity for lead­ing the line but it would be nice if there was a bit of help for him too.

“But he has re­ally emerged as a key player for Scot­land in re­cent months. Hope­fully he can get reg­u­lar game time at Celtic and stay fit be­cause you need ev­ery­one to be play­ing and be sharp.

“Celtic will ob­vi­ously be aim­ing to get back into the Cham­pi­ons League this sea­son. If they do that then he will have the op­por­tu­nity to play against the best play­ers in the world which can help.

“How­ever, if you look back to our squad of play­ers who reg­u­larly got to ma­jor tour­na­ments, we didn’t all have that ex­pe­ri­ence. But there was a col­lec­tive about us that served us well.

“It would be nice to get back to that.”

If Scot­land’s open­ing game against Brazil in the Stade de France al­most 20 years ago to­mor­row seems like a JFK mo­ment for a gen­er­a­tion, there is lit­tle real won­der. Back then, as a bil­lion peo­ple from an es­ti­mated 200 coun­tries tuned in to watch Scot­land go front and cen­tre on a global stage, few would have an­tic­i­pated the drought that lay ahead in terms of the wait for an­other in­vi­ta­tion to foot­ball’s big­gest party.

The Scot­tish land­scape has been bar­ren when it comes to hav­ing much to cel­e­brate since that last ap­pear­ance at the 1998 World Cup fi­nals. Open­ing the tour­na­ment against Brazil in­evitably un­folded into a 90-minute hard-luck nar­ra­tive but that af­ter­noon against the team who would go on win the com­pe­ti­tion, was a par­tic­u­larly niche game in the colour­ful his­tory of the Scot­tish na­tional team.

To start with, there were the kilts. Then man­ager Craig Brown had been in­spired af­ter a lec­ture from Werner Kern, the head of youth at Bay­ern Mu­nich who had ex­plained that the Mu­nich youth sides turned up for tour­na­ments in the tra­di­tional na­tional dress of their coun­try, leder­ho­sen, as a con­fir­ma­tion of their iden­tity.

It might well have been a por­tent of Tom Boyd’s af­ter­noon that he found the kilts itchy and un­com­fort­able, too heavy for the Parisian sum­mer heat. The de­fender would go on to play a role in the drama of that day.

With John Collins’ penalty negat­ing Ce­sar Sam­paio’s early header – Brown would later lament that in eight years i n charge of the na­tional team that was the only goal lost to a set-piece – Jim Leighton’s de­flec­tion of Cafu’s shot re­bounded to strike Boyd on the chest, elude Colin Hendry on the line and prove to be Brazil’s win­ning goal. In fair­ness to Boyd, there is lit­tle re­ally he could be faulted with but still, how he must dread the an­niver­sary of this one.

“It was pretty sick­en­ing given what we had put into it,” ad­mit­ted Gal­lacher, who had won the penalty af­ter be­ing fouled by Sam­paio. “Even now, it is quite in­cred­i­ble how close we came. I re­mem­ber some­one telling me af­ter the game that a bil­lion peo­ple had watched it... it still seems mind-bog­gling.

“I re­mem­ber the bus ride through Paris to get us to the ground and see­ing all the sup­port­ers lin­ing the streets. It was amaz­ing to be part of it. But the one thing that still irks me is that we had to warm up in a tiny side room,

Leigh’s taken on the man­tle of re­spon­si­bil­ity for lead­ing the line

off the park and next to the dress­ing room.

“Be­cause it was the open­ing cer­e­mony we weren’t al­lowed onto the pitch to go through our usual warm-up. It meant we were all cramped into a re­ally small space try­ing to get ready for one of the big­gest games of our lives. There wasn’t enough room, it was too cramped and too hot and it re­ally af­fected us. I al­ways think that was the rea­son why we lost such an early goal. It wasn’t like us to lose a goal from a cor­ner and even all these years later think that we weren’t prop­erly ready.

“Peo­ple still talk to me about what the sta­dium was like be­fore the game. I think ev­ery­one who was any­one was there. You had Sean Con­nery and Billy Con­nolly and Rod Ste­wart and we were go­ing up against the real house­hold names of world foot­ball at the time – Cafu, Ronaldo, Ri­valdo, Roberto Car­los.

“But we were all hud­dled in a wee room un­der the sta­dium as ev­ery­one else got to take it all in on the pitch. It def­i­nitely took some­thing away from us.”

Scot­land alone qual­i­fy­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis for the World Cup will seem mind-bog­gling it­self to an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of young­sters. The tra­di­tional early exit from the tour­na­ment – a 1-1 draw with Nor­way and 3-0 de­feat by Morocco en­sured the usual flight home – but that com­pe­ti­tion was the eighth suc­ces­sive fi­nals that Scot­land had been in­volved in. Such stats seem eye-pop­ping when placed in the con­text of the last 20 years.

This af­ter­noon will see that squad re­united for a golf out­ing at Dalma­hoy fol­lowed by a din­ner to­mor­row. There will be much to re­call as they break bread but for many, the chat will re­volve about what comes next for the na­tional team.

“I hope Alex [McLeish] is the man to get us back there,” said Gal­lacher. “I ac­tu­ally thought he left too early the last time he was in charge of Scot­land. If he can repli­cate the kind of re­sults that he was get­ting then maybe we will have a chance. I couldn’t in my wildest imag­i­na­tion have thought that when we left France that would be it for all this time.”

More in­for­ma­tion on La Re­union this week­end can be found at­e­longest­forty. com

Leigh Grif­fiths’ goals against Eng­land (main) are ev­i­dence he can play at high­est level, says Gal­lacher (left)

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