Paul Lambert looked to his right in the Stade de France tunnel and surveyed Scotland’s opponents. World champions Brazil, no less.
‘They were all there — Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Cafu,’ says the midfielder of the moments before the opening match of the 1998 World Cup, Scotland’s last major tournament.
‘They looked brilliant — the gold shirts, they smelled good, not a hair out of place. I then looked back in front of me and there was big Jim Leighton, with vaseline on his eyebrows and no teeth!
Scotland shocked Brazil by arriving to their 1998 World Cup match wearing kilts
The lowly Scots were amazed as they faced superstars Ronaldo and others Brazil
‘We had Colin Hendry with his big blond hair, Craig Burley no teeth and we didn’t have a sun tan between us.’
Rather than be overawed, Lambert believes Scotland struck an advantage in those seconds before the teams emerged to a watching world.
‘There was deathly silence. Then, from nowhere, a voice shouted down the tunnel from behind us, “Don’t worry, lads. They’re f****** s******* themselves!”.
‘I turned around and there was our manager, Craig Brown. It was priceless. We gave them a right good game on the back of that.’
Earlier, Scotland had arrived at the stadium wearing tartan kilts. Again, says Lambert, it gave them a psychological edge.
‘I was walking by Edmundo, who was reading the match programme, and I just caught his eye. He looked up as if to say, “What the f*** is this?”. It was brilliant, I can still see his face now. They must have thought we were off our heads.
Paul Lambert believes wearing kilts gave them a psychological edge over their opponents
‘The stadium was just filling up and the roar when we walked out on to the pitch in our kilts, it was unbelievable. Even the Brazilians loved it. We felt on top of the world.’ Scotland’s colours were lowered within five minutes when Cesar Sampaio headed in from a corner, but a John Collins penalty levelled the scores before half-time.
With 16 minutes to play, Cafu broke into the penalty area and, when his shot was saved by Leighton, the ball rebounded off Tom Boyd and into the net.
Lambert laughs when told that Cafu claimed in an interview with us last year that the goal was his, although he suggests Boyd will be happy to let him have it.
‘You see that goal,’ says Lambert. ‘If it hits Boydy in the chest then I think the ball dies quicker and Colin [Hendry] can clear it from the line. But it hit him between the shoulder joint and arm and it flew in. It was a freak thing.’
Lambert played as Tartan army were edged out in a 2-1 defeat despite being huge underdogs
Scotland were denied a second-half penalty for handball — ‘With VAR, it’s a pen, but we weren’t getting two against Brazil,’ says Lambert — but at least the manner in which the game finished draws a smile.
‘I knew time was running out and the ball came to me, so I had a swing from 40 yards… it lobbed well over. The referee’s obviously thought, “I’m not having that” and blew for full-time!’
Lambert, a Champions League winner with Dortmund the year before, won praise for his man-to-man job on Rivaldo. ‘I still have his shirt at home,’ he says. ‘But I was used to that level of opponent, I’d done the same to Zinedine Zidane [of Juventus) in the Champions League final.’
It was, in many ways, a victory in defeat for the Scots against the favourites. They took that feeling into their next game with Norway. ‘We battered them. It was roasting hot but we ran all over them.’ Craig Burley made it 1-1 midway through the second half. ‘We should have gone on to win. They were going down with cramp and time-wasting. That was the game that got away.’
Lambert was right, it would prove costly. ‘We still went into Morocco quite optimistic. But let’s be honest, we were s***. We got beat 3-0 and deserved it. There were arguments in the dressing-room at half-time. Rightly so. Craig [Brown] was trying to calm everyone down, but words needed to be said.
John Collins sent Scotland into delirium after equalising from the penalty spot at Wembley
‘There was so much disappointment. We just had our dinner and went to bed. There was no, “Go out, have a drink and enjoy yourselves”. But had we known it would be another 23 years…’
That brings us to now and tomorrow’s belated return to major tournament football when Steve Clarke’s side take on the Czech Republic at Hampden Park.
‘Most of our guys know exactly what they’re up against, they’re competing with them at the top of the Premier League every week. It’s not a mismatch,’ says Lambert.
Scotland’s last win at Wembley was in 1999 but the 1-0 victory was not enough to reverse a 2-0 first-leg defeat by England in the play-off for Euro 2000. Lambert, then of Celtic, missed those games after breaking his jaw and losing several teeth blocking a shot in the Old Firm derby.
‘Craig Brown always said if I’d been there then Paul Scholes wouldn’t have scored his two goals in the first leg. Maybe, maybe not.’
Only now can Scotland finally stop wondering about what might have been.
Boss Craig Brown gave rallying cry of “Don’t worry, lads. They’re f****** s******* themselves!”
Scots planning for last 16
Scotland are so confident of making the last 16 of Euro 2020 that their analysts are already studying potential second-round opponents.
Assistant boss John Carver has revealed that every angle is being covered as they bid to become the first Scotland side to make it beyond the group stage of a major tournament.
‘We have analysts working on who we could play if we get through the group stages,’ said Carver. ‘We are covering every possibility, there is no stone unturned. That is important in tournament football.’
Scotland are so confident of chances at Euro 2020 they are already studying last 16 opponents
Scotland kick off against the Czech Republic tomorrow, their first match at a major finals for 23 years.
And Carver added: ‘I’ve got no fear that they will freeze. I know they will cope. We don’t want to arrive at the tournament and say, “We’re happy to be here”.
‘I’m expecting us to get out of the group. I think the guys are confident enough to do that.’
Carver also believes the tournament’s 12-month delay has helped Scotland, with a trio of previously uncapped youngsters making the final squad.
Assistant boss John Carver thinks youngsters such as Billy Gilmour will give Scots a big lift
‘You just have to look at the three young guys who have come in — Billy Gilmour, Nathan Patterson and David Turnbull,’ he said.
‘They’ve added quality and have put pressure on the senior lads. So that time has helped us, for sure.’