How Scotland have fared in their opening game at every major international tournament

With Scotland beginning their Euro 2020 campaign today with a meeting against the Czech Republic at Hampden, we look back at how our heroes fared in each of their previous opening encounters at major tournaments.

Joe Jordan puts Scotland ahead against Peru in 1978. Picture: SNS
Joe Jordan puts Scotland ahead against Peru in 1978. Picture: SNS

Tournament: 1954 World Cup in Switzerland

Opponent: Austria

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Manager: Andrew Beattie

Result: 1-0 defeat

Scotland’s first foray into the World Cup was beset by some farcical planning on the part of the SFA who assumed Switzerland was a frozen tundra all year round and sent out the players in heavy cotton shirts. As Tommy Docherty later put it, the players were “knackered by the end of the anthems” as 25°C heat beat down on them. This was to be a more respectable outing than the one which followed as they were thumped 7-0 by Uruguay and went home without a goal scored.

Tournament: 1958 World Cup in Sweden

Opponent: Yugoslavia

Manager: Dawson Walker

Result: 1-1 draw

The travelling Scots certainly gave a better account of themselves in the group stages than they had four years earlier, even if this was the only point they managed in three games. Jimmy Murray got our first ever goal at a World Cup with his second half equaliser in the opener, though a pair of one-goal defeats to Paraguay and France sent them out.

Tournament: 1974 World Cup in West Germany

Opponent: Zaire

Manager: Willie Ormond

Result: 2-0 victory

The first time Scotland won their opening match at an international tournament was a bit of a failure in retrospect. Beating the African by only two goals (scored by Joe Jordan and Peter Lorimer) would later come back to haunt Ormond’s side as Yugoslavia stuck NINE past them and Brazil managed the required 3-0 victory to advance with little fuss.

Tournament: 1978 World Cup in Argentina

Opponent: Peru

Manager: Ally McLeod

Result: 3-1 defeat

A tournament that promised so much delivered nothing but more heartbreak for the confident Scots, who decided it wasn’t really worth the trouble learning about their opponents and being subsequently torn apart by Teófilo Cubillas after Joe Jordan had opened the scoring. In fairness, the South American team were no mugs. It was the 1-1 defeat to Iran in the following game which should’ve stung the most as Archie Gemmill’s heroics in the final game against the Netherlands ultimately weren’t enough to send them through.

Tournament: 1982 World Cup in Spain

Opponent: New Zealand

Manager: Jock Stein

Result: 5-2 victory

No shocks this time as goals from Kenny Dalglish, John Robertson, Steve Archibald and a double from John Wark ensured a comprehensive victory against our antipodean cousins. However, there was another sense of ‘what if?’ as the two goals conceded ended up being the difference between elimination and qualification as Scotland once again exited on goal difference.

Tournament: 1986 World Cup in Mexico

Opponent: Denmark

Manager: Alex Ferguson

Result: 1-0 defeat

A narrow defeat in what would be a damp squib of a tournament for Scotland with only one goal scored in three games. Elkjær Larsen got the only goal of the match shortly before the hour mark.

Tournament: 1990 World Cup in Italy

Opponent: Costa Rica

Manager: Andy Roxburgh

Result: 1-0 defeat

Back to embarrassing ourselves against unfancied nations. Juan Cayasso’s goal five minutes into the second half was enough to separate the sides and would eventually prove fatal for our hopes of finally getting out of the group stages. A 2-1 win over Sweden in the following game resurrected a bit of hope but a 1-0 defeat to Brazil in the final fixture saw them out.

Tournament: 1992 Euros in Sweden

Opponent: The Netherlands

Manager: Andy Roxburgh

Result: 1-0 defeat

Roxburgh became the first manager to lead Scotland to qualification in two successive international tournaments as they marked out first foray into the European Championships, which used to be only eight teams back then. As a result the group was very tough, with the Dutch, a newly unified German team and the recently rebranded CIS (Soviets). Consecutive defeats to the former pair saw Roxburgh’s side eliminated before the final match, which was a shame because they turned in an excellent performance and 3-0 win. A young Dennis Bergkamp was the difference maker in the opening match.

Tournament: 1996 Euros in Sweden

Opponent: The Netherlands

Manager: Craig Brown

Result: 0-0 defeat

A better result than three years prior, which was achieved with a mixture of excellent defending and a little bit of luck as the referee didn’t spot a John Collins handball on the goal-line. Of course, the pivotal moment in this group came in the next fixture when Gary McAllister missed his spot-kick and England soon doubled their advantage. Had McAllister converted and Scotland hung on for at least a draw then they would very likely have made the last 16 and, in a tournament without any real stand-out teams, who knows what could’ve happened? As it was, we went out on goal difference – again.

Tournament: 1998 World Cup in France

Opponent: Brazil

Manager: Craig Brown

Result: 2-1 defeat

There haven’t been too many examples of glorious failure from opening games across the years, but this certainly falls into that category. Craig Brown’s men gave a terrific account of themselves, equalising against the reigning World Cup champions and heavy pre-tournament favourites through a John Collins penalty. Unfortunately Tom Boyd’s own goal put paid to any chance of a historic result. A draw with Norway and defeat to Morocco saw us out.

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