Tactical errors and a bad-tempered lunch: Scotland’s World Cup loss to Costa Rica 30 years on

Defender refuses to blame complacency for shock loss to Costa Rica in 1990
Juan Cayasso beats Jim Leighton for Costa Rica's winner in their 1-0 victory over Scotland in 1990.Juan Cayasso beats Jim Leighton for Costa Rica's winner in their 1-0 victory over Scotland in 1990.
Juan Cayasso beats Jim Leighton for Costa Rica's winner in their 1-0 victory over Scotland in 1990.

Maurice Malpas doesn’t need to review the old video footage in order to remind himself of what happened four minutes after half-time at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium in Genoa on 11 June 1990.

In his mind’s eye, that crushingly disappointing moment in Scotland’s chequered World Cup history remains crystal clear 30 years on for a man who served his country with distinction in a 55-cap career.

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“I remember the goal very well,” says Malpas with a sigh as he reflects on the day the Tartan Army watched in despair as Andy Roxburgh’s squad opened their Italia ‘90 adventure with a 1-0 defeat to the then previously unheralded Central American champions Costa Rica.

Following tactical instructions as diligently as he always did, whether for Dundee United or Scotland, Malpas jockeyed the advancing Hector Marchena into the centre of the pitch. The fateful few seconds which followed saw Marchena play the ball to Claudio Jara on the edge of the penalty area where a clever backheel allowed Juan Cayasso to beat the offside trap and write his name into World Cup folklore by steering a shot beyond Jim Leighton.

“We had worked in training on showing their players inside the pitch,” adds Malpas. “So I’ve shown the lad inside and the next thing I know the ball is in the corner of our net.

“Our midfield had been run ragged a wee bit at that point, to be honest. Looking back now, Costa Rica were a decent side. They were technically very gifted.”

Hindsight always lends a different perspective, of course, but Malpas dismisses the notion that Scotland were guilty of complacency against opponents who were appearing at a World Cup Finals for the first time.

Although Costa Rica had won the CONCACAF championship the previous year to qualify, topping the then group stage format ahead of the more fancied USA, all 22 players in their squad were home-based and had no profile beyond their own borders.

“I don’t think we underestimated them,” says Malpas. “It was just a case that we didn’t really know too much about them.

“It’s not like today, when you can watch as many full games as you like of any opponents you come up against.

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“We had match reports on them, Andy Roxburgh had them watched as often as possible and had as much information as he could get. But it’s not like now, where there is limitless footage of every team in the world and you can get the most detailed information you want on every individual player.

“Andy had seen them in warm-up games but, looking back, getting them in the first game at that World Cup wasn’t the advantage we thought it was. Because we didn’t really know how they were going to set up in that environment. It was just one of those days when things didn’t go our way. Scotland had never got off to a flier in the tournament finals in my time with the national team, so that was the most disappointing aspect of it.

“The punters thought – and so did the players, to be fair – that it was a good game to start off with. We all felt we would take something from the game.”

The response to the shock defeat, from press and punters alike, reverberated around Malpas and his team-mates for the next few days. The cutting intro in the match report of the late Alan Davidson, respected chief football writer of the Glasgow Evening Times, unsparingly summed up the mood of the nation.

“Scotland have joined the ranks of the unwashed in world football,” wrote Davidson, “and not even the cologne of their five-star headquarters on the Italian Riviera can camouflage the stench of putrid failure.”

There was no escape from that angry mood for the Scotland squad, even in and around their hotel base in the sea front town of Rapallo.

“There was a fair bit of flak flying after the game and that lasted up until the next game against Sweden,” adds Malpas. “But that’s how the cookie crumbles. The day after the game, we had some free time and a few of us went into the village for a bit of lunch. It soon became clear just how angry the Scotland supporters were – they really didn’t like us or want to see us.

“The Scottish fans are not normally like that, they usually managed to find the positive side of things in my experience. But the guys we encountered that day couldn’t see the positive side of anything!

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“Everyone felt it was a certain victory against Costa Rica. We felt we had a real chance to start with a win but, let’s be honest, we just weren’t good enough on the day.”

Scotland worked their way back into the good books of the Tartan Army as they bounced back with a spirited and deserved 2-1 win over Sweden in their second Group C match, then competed well against Brazil in their final fixture only to lose out to a late goal from Muller.

“The Sweden game was a typical response from Scotland,” smiles Malpas. “We had our backs to the wall, nothing to lose and everything to gain. So we went out and did it. I think people might have preferred it the other way round – if we’d beaten Costa Rica, they could have accepted it if we’d lost to Sweden. But that’s the Scottish mentality – let’s get things the wrong way round. It was the usual story for us - we then played well against Brazil but lost out to a late goal. It just wasn’t to be.

“We actually had to wait around for another day, because there was still a chance we could qualify as one of the best third-placed teams. Of course, that didn’t work out either. But, to be honest, I think 
we all just wanted to come home by that stage.”

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