GRIFF CAN FIRE US TO WORLD CUP FOR KEV
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 at www.thelongestforty. com
Leigh Griffiths’ goals against England (main) are evidence he can play at highest level, says Gallacher (left)