Scotland didn’t attempt to qualify for the first three World Cup Finals as they weren’t yet members of FIFA. Despite qualifying for the 1950 World Cup, the Scottish FA declined to send a team since we weren’t British Champions at the time. So, it wasn’t until 1954 that Scotland eventually took part in the Finals.
Scotland’s first ever manager, Andy Beattie, was appointed to lead the team in Switzerland, however despite being allowed to select 22 players for the squad the Scottish FA decided only 13 could be taken. This caused Beattie, who was only part-time manager due to commitments with Huddersfield Town, to resign before the first game. For their troubles Scotland got grouped together with Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Uruguay.The Uruguayans were strong favourites for the tournament, and they still hadn't lost a match in World Cup history at this stage.
The two seeded teams in the group, strangely enough, did not need to play each other in the group. Also remarkable was that extra time was needed if the scores were level in the group matches. So Scotland only played two games at the tournament, which they lost 1-0 and 7-0 to Austria and Uruguay respectively. The 7-0 defeat remains Scotland’s heaviest of all time.
Matt Busby was supposed to manage the team in 1958, but was unable to after the injuries he sustained in the Munich air disaster, so Dawson Walker was put in charge. Sweden played hosts, and for the first time, the tournament received international television coverage. The 16 teams were split into four groups as in 1954, but now all the teams in the group played each other. If teams tied for second and third place, the outcome was decided by a play-off. Scotland pick up their first point in the competition after a 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia. However, defeats of 3-2 to Paraguay and 2-1 to France saw the team finish bottom of their group and fail to progress past the first round. Scotland would not qualify for another finals until 1974.
Willie Ormond led the side at the 1974 World Cup, hosted by West Germany. Scotland, were Britain's only team to qualify. They set a World Cup record as the only team to date that were eliminated in the first round without losing a match. Every other team with a zero in the column for defeats in World Cup history up until 1974, had ended up winning the whole tournament.
Scotland were drawn in a group with Zaire, Yugoslavia and Brazil. Winning their opener against Zaire 2-0 put the team in a good position, but a 0-0 draw with Brazil and a 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia meant, not for the last time, that Scotland went out a major tournament on goal difference. This was the first of five straight finals with 'oh-so-near' first round eliminations.
The build up to Scotland’s 1978 World Cup in Argentina is largely remembered for the exploits of manager Ally MacLeod, who raised expectations by claiming that Scotland could win the tournament. In fairness the squad Scotland sent to Argentina was arguably the greatest the country has ever produced, with older players like Bremner, Johnstone & Law coming together with the young crop such as Dalglish, Jardine, Jordan & McQueen.
So high were expectations that the Tartan Army infamously sang: 'We’re on the march with Ally’s Army, we’re going to the Argentine, for we’ll really shake them up, when we win the World Cup, ’cause Scotland are the greatest football team'.
Scotland faced Peru in their opening match, starting well with a goal from Joe Jordan after 14 minutes. Don Masson squandered the chance to put the team two goals up from the penalty spot and Peru equalised before half time. Two late goals from Peru’s Cubillas sealed a 3-1 defeat.
The next match was against Iran and the team started well again, going ahead through an own goal. However, Iran levelled the game in the 60th minute, leaving the manager, players and country devastated. In order to qualify for the next stage, they would have to beat much fancied Holland by three clear goals. The match started badly for Scotland, going a goal down from the penalty spot. The team fought back to take the lead with goals from Dalglish and Gemmill. Then, at 2-1 up, Gemmill went on to score perhaps Scotland’s most famous goal, beatingthree Dutch defenders before lifting the ball over the keeper. The weeman inspired an entire nation to hold its breath for ten seconds, beforeerupting in hope blinded by uncontrolled euphoria.
From anignominious exit out of the world cup, to scoring the most beautifulgoal ever seen on that stage, against the best team in the world,putting an impossible qualification a single goal away. The Tartan Armydared to dream again. However, minutes later Johnny Rep scored anotherfor Holland and Scotland were once again eliminated on goal difference.
Scotland qualified for the 1982 World Cup in Spain after losing just onequalifying game in their group. Jock Steins side got off to the bestpossible start as Scotland romped New Zealand in a 5-2 victory.
The next opposition was the mighty Brazil. Brazil came to Spain with their best team since 1970, with some experts regarding this squad to be even better. Their beautiful flowing samba style football won hearts all over the world, as Zico, Eder, Socrates and Falcao simply looked unstoppable. Despite some early chances for the Brazilians, Scotland shocked the footballing world by taking the lead on the 18th minute through a David Narey’s strike, which would later be infamously described as a 'toe poke' by English pundit Jimmy Hill.
However one wants to describe the goal, everyone can agree that it served to spur the Brazilians into action. And on the 33rd minute they duly did as Zico curled in a free-kick to equalise. A header from Oscar was followed by strikes by Eder and Falcao, and Brazil ran out 4-1 winners. Heading into the last game against the USSR, Scotland knew they needed to win since a draw would eliminate them on goal difference. Which is precisely what they did, as the Soviet Union held them to 2-2 draw, which was not enough. So for the third successive World Cup, Scotland failed to progress on goal difference.
Scotland's route to the 1986 World Cup was steeped in tragedy. Jock Stein's death on a tense night in Wales, as Scotland clinched a play off place, cast a long shadow over the whole 1986 campaign. So it was left with Alex Ferguson to take charge of the team at the 1986 Finals in Mexico, despite retaining his position as Aberdeen manager. In an even first match Denmark beat us 1-0, although a Roy Aitken goal that looked legitimate was disallowed.
In the next match Gordon Strachan put us ahead against West Germany in the first half. Unable to hold out, Scotland went in all square at half time before a Rudi Voller goal early in the second half put the Germans ahead. At times it seems that the Scotland team was created to tantalise the support with the the promise that greatness is always just one step away.
Amazingly we went into the Uruguay game with qualification still a realistic possibility. Scotland had to win to progress, while Uruguay needed only a draw. Against a team displaying football's uglier side, Scotland were without answers. Uruguay had come to defend deep, and Scotland were unable to exert the pressure that would have made them doubt the wisdom of their tactics.
Scotland qualified for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, a remarkable fifth consecutive finals, and confidence was high after the tournament build up in which the team beat holders Argentina 1-0 in a friendly.
The largely unknown Costa Ricans were up first. Against a side making their World Cup debut Scotland were expected to get off to a decent start. However, the opening match saw Scotland slump 1-0 in one of the most embarrassing defeats in their history.
The team rallied to beat Sweden 2-1 in their next match meaning that a point in their final group game against Brazil may be enough. With four of the six third place teams set to advance to the second round Scotland had given themselves a chance. They only had to stop Brazil to get there. And this was not vintage Brazil. They'd won both their games but a 2-1 victory over Sweden and a 1-0 win over Costa Rica was hardly the stuff of legends.
Despite managing to hold Brazil at 0-0 for most of the game, they scored a late winner. Muller knocked home a loose ball and Scotland, just eight minutes from the draw they needed, were done.
Other results in the group were unfavourable and Scotland failed to progress. The team failed to qualify for USA '94 from a tough group including Switzerland, Italy and Portugal, meaning for the first time since 1970, Scotland missed out on the World Cup. A 0-0 draw with Switzerland at Pittodrie marked the end of Andy Roxburgh’s tenure as manager with Craig Brown taking over.
For the 4th time Scotland were faced with Brazil at the World Cup group stage. It was undoubtedly the biggest stage on which Scotland's national football side have ever performed. Paris in the June sunshine and the Stade de France was packed to the rafters for the inaugural fixture ofthe 1998 World Cup.
Disaster struck when the Brazilians scored after only four minutes, nevertheless the team kept going and were awarded a penalty close to half time. John Collins, who in that moment was surely the most composed Scot on the planet, withstood the pressure and stroked home the penalty to equalise from the spot. Scotland went in at the break drawing 1-1 with the reigning champions, favourites, the mighty Brazil. Then, after 76 minutes, Cafu struck a shot from distance, which Leighton dived to save, pushing the ball away towards his left. The ball looked to bebouncing harmlessly away towards the left side corner flag, until it struck defender Tom Boyd on his chest, changing direction abruptly as a result and cruelly diverting past the hapless Leighton, still stranded at the other side of his goal.
A tough game against Norway was next and after going a goal behind, Craig Burley scored an equaliser. The game finished 1-1 leaving Scotland with a chance of qualification going into the final match.
Into the final game it stood that Brazil had qualified on six points, Norway had two points from two draws and Scotland and Morocco a point each. Scotland had to beat Morocco and hope Norway get no better than a draw against Brazil. However, the final game against Morocco was a disaster for Scotland, being swept aside 3-0 by the Africans and once again failing to make it past the first round of the World Cup.