World Cup Memories: We were so close to Samba beating

Kevin Gallacher

Kevin Gallacher

First published in Sport Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter

IT is 12 years since Kevin Gallacher hung up his boots, but the briefest of remarks from a fellow golfer was enough to transport him back to 1998 and the Stade de France.

It was the opening game of the World Cup and the opponents were the famous Brazil.

Millions, maybe even billions, were watching around the globe when Gallacher advanced into the box and won a penalty.

The game ended in heartbreaking defeat, but the former Blackburn Rovers title winner will always feel privileged to have experienced such a match.

“I was at a golf day recently and someone said it wasn’t too often they got the chance to play with a World Cup star,” Gallacher said.

“I don’t see myself as a World Cup star, I just see myself as a footballer, but it’s nice that people see you as that.

“You can look back with pride.”

Gallacher wondered whether his chance of playing in a World Cup had gone eight years earlier, when he was left out of Scotland’s squad for Italia ’90 by Andy Roxburgh.

“I had fallen out with Dundee United and Andy Roxburgh told me I had to be playing regular football if I was to be in the World Cup squad,” he said.

“So I moved to Coventry and got my regular football, but then I wasn’t picked for the World Cup.

“I was very bitter about it and I didn’t watch any of the 1990 World Cup, which is unusual for me because I will watch any football on television. But I said, ‘Let’s go to America for a month’.”

Scotland failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup but they made it in 1998.

Their qualifying campaign featured farce in Tallinn, when a match was abandoned after three seconds because the Estonia team refused to turn up following a dispute over floodlights.

Gallacher scored six times in the last five qualifying games to take his country to the finals.

They would be drawn in Group A together with Norway, Morocco and defending champions Brazil, who they faced in the first game of the tournament.

“When the draw was made at Christmas time it was phenomenal,” Gallacher remembers.

“Playing Brazil in the opening game of the World Cup, 80,000 at St Denis in a new stadium, hundreds of millions watching on TV.

“It was definitely the biggest game I ever played in.

“There were a lot of people watching that last game at Anfeld when we won the title at Blackburn, and the UEFA Cup final with Dundee United. But that was the biggest.”

If Brazil’s side was packed with world stars, Scotland approached the game without fear.

“You can talk about the world stars of Brazil and yes they had the best full backs in the world, Cafu and Roberto Carlos, and they had Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Sampaio, Aldair, world class players,” Gallacher says.

“No-one talks about the world stars of Scotland but we had some good players – Colin Hendry, Billy McKinlay, Colin Calderwood, Tom Boyd, John Collins, Paul Lambert, Darren Jackson, Gordon Durie.

“We had Blackburn Rovers players who had won the title, Liverpool players, Manchester United players, and we believed we could get a result.

“It was 11 versus 11. We weren’t looking at them as mega world stars. It was a game of football.”

Scotland fell behind after four minutes, although the goal was not exactly classic samba football.

Bebeto swung in a simple corner and holding midfielder Cesar Sampaio headed in.

Gallacher admitted: “We got caught cold early on from a corner, which was unusual because marking from corners was one of our strengths.”

On 38 minutes, Gallacher chased a flick-on before being felled.

“When Sampaio pushed me in the back, I thought I might not get the ball, the goalkeeper is probably going to get it, so I’m going to go down.

“Then I heard a whistle and I thought, ‘Wow’.

“I looked up and the referee was pointing to the spot. The fans were going mad.

“I wasn’t sure whether I was on penalties or whether it was someone else. But John Collins had the ball under his arm, chest out, he looked confident.

“So I thought I’d let him get on with it, and he put it away.”

Scotland were on course for a shock draw, until the 74th minute.

“Colin Hendry, Colin Calderwood and Tom Boyd were keeping Ronaldo quiet, I think his head was elsewhere,” Gallacher says. “But then Cafu went forward and there was a mix-up between Jim Leighton and Tom Boyd. The ball ricocheted off Tom into the net.

“After that we had chances but it just was a bridge too far.”

Scotland’s tournament unravelled from there. Expected to fare better in their final two group games, they drew 1-1 with Norway and then lost 3-0 to Morocco. With only one point from nine, they were out.

“Against Norway they got an equaliser and we were bitterly disappointed with that,” Gallacher says.

“We still thought Norway have to play Brazil and we’re playing Morocco, so we have a chance.

“But Norway beat Brazil 2-1, and I think we underestimated Morocco.

“After the World Cup two of their players went to Coventry (Mustapha Hadji and Youssef Chippo).

“It shows that even the smallest nations have good players and it’s a shop window for them.

“It was devastation because a lot of us were in our 30s and we knew that could be our last campaign.

“After that there had to be a change and the young ones came in.

“Unfortunately Scotland haven’t qualified since.”

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