Eight-Time Losers Limp Home to Scotland
By Robert Millward
Wednesday, June 24, 1998; Page C1
SAINT-ETIENNE, France Scotland missed the cut again.
It's a familiar story. Thousands of noisy but friendly and popular Scottish fans follow their team to the World Cup. They go home early because their team wasn't as good as their support.
A 3-0 loss to Morocco on Tuesday sentenced Scotland to be a first-round dropout for the eighth time in a row. The Scots have never been into the second round and have the worst record of any team to have made it to soccer's biggest event.
"We're a small country that keeps qualifying,'' Coach Craig Brown said as the Scots prepared to return home emptyhanded once again. "You've got to give us credit for that.''
The team also deserves credit for playing better than expected, frightening Brazil in the opening game and losing 2-1 after an own goal by defender Tommy Boyd, who couldn't get out of the way of a rebound off his own goalkeeper, Jim Leighton.
And for fighting back for a 1-1 tie with Norway when the team looked as though it would be the first eliminated.
"We didn't get any breaks in the two games we played against the teams who qualified for the second round,'' Brown lamented. "And we got better results and produced better performances against Brazil and Norway, who did qualify, than against Morocco, who didn't.
"We got such brilliant support and that makes it all the more disappointing that we didn't give them the final flourish.''
About 15,000 Scottish fans were in all corners of Geoffrey Guichard Stadium to make the place seem more like Glasgow's Ibrox, Parkhead or Hampden. Against Morocco, which had a much smaller but noisy band of fans, the team effectively lost 3-0 at home.
"I think we drew a very difficult group, against the first, seventh and 11th best teams, according to the World Cup rankings,'' Brown said. "Those knowledgeable in football would agree that we acquitted ourselves fairly well.''
Scotland was ranked 41st going into the tournament.
But Scotland is the nation that gave the game stars such as Jim Baxter, Denis Law and Kenny Dalglish and successful managers like Matt Busby, Jock Stein, Dalglish, George Graham and Alex Ferguson.
It's a mystery why the Scots can't perform well at major championships, especially the World Cup.
Paul Lambert was on the Borussia Dortmund team that won the European Champions Cup in 1997, then helped Celtic win its first Scottish league title in a decade last season. He said the team was upset about letting the fans down.
"We have to feel for the fans. They were magnificent,'' he said. "I thought we played well enough to earn a place in the second round, but didn't get the results. Against Morocco, things were looking OK at 0-0 and then we conceded a bad goal.
"We've just got to get back and qualify again and see what we can do next time.''
Craig Burley, who scored Scotland's tying goal against Norway, but was sent off for a tackle from behind against Morocco soon after the Scots fell behind 2-0, believes they need to achieve a higher standard to finally make it past the first round.
"Of the 22 players no one feels more disappointed than me,'' he said. "But we have got to look at ourselves as a football nation and ask ourselves, `Are we good enough?' We have got to improve.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press