Scotland 1990

1990 Stewart McKimmie scores against Argentina at Hampden

At the start of 1990 Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh started to plan for the World Cup in Italy that Summer. Scotland would face Brazil one of the favourites, Sweden and outsiders Costa Rica in Group C. In February 1990 Roxburgh had organised a short training camp in Italy, with Scotland playing two games in Genoa it was a chance to train at the Sampdoria stadium and for the manager to look over his players. Scotland had enjoyed a strong start to their qualifying campaign as Mo Johnston’s six goals had made them favourites to join Yugoslavia at Italia 1990, but in their last three games they collapsed to heavy defeats in Zagreb and Paris. In November 1989 a 1-1 draw with Norway at Hampden was enough for Scotland to qualify for their fifth World Cup in a row, one point ahead of Michel Platini’s France.

In March 1990 World Champions Argentina arrived at Hampden for a glamorous friendly. Even without Diego Maradona they would provide a formidable test. Stuart McCall and Norwich striker Robert Fleck made their debuts and in a tight game Stuart McKimmie fired home a famous winner. Roxburgh had played a 3-5-2 formation with Craig Levein slotting in alongside Richard Gough and Captain Alex McLeish. In April East Germany faced Scotland in another friendly at Hampden. Andy Goram replaced Jim Leighton in goal, with many in the press calling for him to be the first choice in the World Cup, after the Manchester United keeper’s poor form in a struggling team. John Collins and Gary McAllister also came in the team. Scotland played quite well but were unable to break their opponents down, and lost 1-0 to a Thomas Doll penalty.

1990 Scotland line up to face up to face East Germany at Hampden

In May Scotland faced Egypt at Pittodrie in another friendly. The Egyptians were in England’s World Cup group and were anxious to face British opposition in preparation. Bryan Gunn the Norwich goalkeeper made his debut at his former ground but had a poor game. He was at fault for two of the of the goals as Egypt ran out 3-1 winners. Ally McCoist scored for Scotland and Davie Cooper returned to the team. Roxburgh played down the result and claimed he was trying different players and systems with the goal of being successful in the World Cup. A few days later Scotland faced Poland at Hampden in another friendly, the Scots last home game before the World Cup. Mo Johnston headed the opening goal but another own goal but Gary Gillespie meant the game ended in a 1-1 draw. Scotland had conceded two own goals in Yugoslavia and defensively they looked vulnerable. On the 28th May 1990 Scotland played Malta in Valetta and two headers by Alan McInally gave Scotland a 2-1 victory.

When Andy Roxburgh named his squad for the World Cup there were few surprises. Davie Cooper pulled out through injury and Robert Fleck replaced him. Roy Aitken who had joined Newcastle in January would captain the team and with Gough and McLeish the experienced defenders. In midfield Paul McStay and Jim Bett were expected to provide the quality to supply Rangers pair Mo Johnston and Ally McCoist up front.

1990 Scotland line up to face Costa Rica in their opening World Cup game

Scotland would face rank outsiders Costa Rica in their opening game. Mo Johnston had overcome a stomach muscle injury to take his place upfront. Andy Roxburgh pointed out that the Costa Ricans would be a decent side and Scotland would rather not have faced them in their first game. Serbian coach Bora Milultinovic had taken hosts Mexico to the Quarter Finals in 1986 and he had been appointed just 90 days before by the Central Americans. Costa Rica would be very well organised and tricky opponents. It would be a game in which the first goal would be crucial.

Richard Gough won his 50th cap but Roxburgh had opted for Alan McInally upfront instead of Ally McCoist. He felt that the Costa Ricans were vulnerable in the air, especially their goalkeeper Luis Conejo. Scotland wearing their away kit of white shirts with yellow and black stripes controlled the first half, but too often knocked long balls up to McInally instead of playing their normal passing game. Mo Johnston was denied by a brilliant save by Conejo after Gough had knocked the ball down to him. At half time the game was goal less but Leighton did not have a save to make. At half time Richard Gough was replaced by Stewart McKimmie. The Rangers defender would later fly home for surgery and play no further part in the World Cup. In the 49th minute after a fine passing move Costa Rica took the lead. Juan Cayasso chipping Jim Leighton. Scotland still had plenty of time to come back and they continued to press. However Jim Bett and Paul McStay never got going and the Celtic man wasted several free kicks. On 73 minutes Ally McCoist replaced Alan McInally but he was starved of service. Conejo made another great save from Mo Johnston and McStay had a shot cleared off the line but Costa Rica held on for a famous 1-0 victory. It was probably the most humiliating defeat in Scotland’s history. A shocked Andy Roxburgh claimed Scotland had been caught by a sucker punch and that Conejo had been the man of the match. However many questioned why Ally McCoist did not start the game and why Roxburgh had asked the team to play so directly up to Alan McInally. Jim Bett had a poor game and Scotland did not create enough chances. With dark horses Sweden and favourites Brazil still to come, it looked like Scotland’s World Cup dreams were already over.

1990 Scotland line up to face Sweden in Genoa

Five days later on the 16th of June 1990 Scotland faced Sweden in the same stadium in Genoa. The Swedes had won their qualifying group ahead of England and lost narrowly 2-1 to Brazil in their opening game. Andy Roxburgh shuffled his pack. Craig Levein came into the defence and Murdo MacLeod and Gordon Durie replaced Bett and McStay in midfield. Robert Fleck replaced McInally upfront. Scotland began confidently and soon had the Swedes on the back foot. After 10 minutes they took the lead after Stuart McCall stabbed home a corner kick. The Scots were full of running with Durie and MacLeod providing a good balance in midfield. The Swedes still looked dangerous on the break with Thomas Brolin their main threat. Scotland made more chances themselves but at half time they lead 1-0.

1990 World Cup Stuart McCall scores against Sweden in Genoa

In the second half Scotland continued to dominate the game with Robert Fleck giving Sweden Captain Glenn Hysen a torrid time. Mo Johnston was denied by Ravelli and in the 81st minute Robert Fleck played Alex McLeish’s fine pass to Roy Aitken, who burst into the box, his first shot was saved and he was tripped before he could fire home the rebound. It looked a clear penalty but the Swedes claimed he dived. Mo Johnston confidently stepped up to send Ravelli the wrong way from the spot to give Scotland a 2-0 lead. However there was a nervous ending after Glen Stromberg pulled a goal back for Sweden in the 85 minute. Scotland held on for a memorable 2-1 victory, their last win in the World Cup Finals. Andy Roxburgh proudly waved a tartan scarf at full time as the team celebrated in front of the Tartan Army. It was a superb performance against a strong team, especially after all the criticism following the Costa Rica defeat.

1990 World Cup Mo Johnston scores a penalty against Sweden in Genoa

1990 World Cup Scotland line up to face Brazil in Turin

Scotland then travelled to Turin to play Brazil in their final game on the 20th of June. The Brazilians had already qualified for the second round after beating Costa Rica 1-0. Andy Roxburgh lost Levein through injury and brought McStay back with Ally McCoist starting his first game up front alongside his Rangers team mate Mo Johnston. With Scotland needing one point to make the next round they were content to sit back and soak up the pressure. In a downpour both teams created little in the first half. Murdo MacLeod was knocked out after Branco blasted a free kick into the Scottish wall and he was replaced by Gary Gillespie in the 38th minute. At the start of the second half Brazil pushed forward and Jim Leighton made a fine save at the feet of the dangerous Romario. At the other end Roy Aitken’s header was cleared off the line. As the game entered the last 10 minutes it looked like Scotland would hold on for the draw thy needed. Then Paul McStay gave the ball away in midfield, Alemao’s shot was fumbled by Leighton, he saved the follow up after a scramble with Gillespie and Careca but the ball drifted to Muller who forced the ball home as Alex McLeish stood and watched. Leighton kicked the post in frustration and Scotland knew they had to score or they were out. Robert Fleck had replaced McCoist in the 77 minute and as the game drifted into injury time Scotland had a great chance to equalise. Stuart McCall knocked the ball back to Mo Johnston who smashed it from point blank range. Somehow Brazilian keeper Taffarel got his fingers to the ball to push it over the bar. Johnston beat the ground in frustration and Scotland lost 1-0. They had defended bravely but had created little and were out of the World Cup. There remained a very slim chance they could go through as one of the best third placed teams but results went against them and they were eliminated.

20 Jun 1990: Mo Johnson (second right) of Scotland is tackled as he narrowly misses scoring in the closing stages during the World Cup match against Brazil in Turin, Italy. Brazil won the match 1-0. \ Mandatory Credit: David Cannon/Allsport

Scotland had played well in patches against both Costa Rica and Brazil and could have got a draw in either game. In retrospect a draw against Costa Rica would have been a decent result. They proved that they were a very good team by beating Sweden 2-1 to finish behind Brazil and reach the last 16, where they were beaten by Czechoslovakia. Italia 1990 would be memorable for the 2-1 victory over Sweden, a game in which Scotland regained their pride and showed that they belonged on the world stage.


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