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Scotland - A Play-Off History

Scotland face another dramatic play-off soon when it's decided who they will play in their final qualifiers for World Cup Qatar 2022 (semi-final then play-off 'final' match). @AlexHTheMAX looks at the Scots rollercoaster rides in qualification play off ties through nearly 60 years dating back to a game against eventual World Cup finalists and including a trip 'Down Under'.


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World Cup 1962 
Scotland's first "play off" decided who qualified from a three team group for the 1962 World Cup in Chile. Scotland were going for a World Cup qualification hat-trick after appearing at the 1954 and 1958 finals.

Czeckoslovakia and the Scots finished on equal points in Group 8 European qualifying, but despite the Czechs having a better 'goals for' column, due to a thumping 7-1 win over Rep of Ireland, this wasn't counted back in the early 1960s. so it was onto the neutral venue of Brussels in 1961 to decide who would head to the seventh World Cup finals.

A Scotland side with eight home based players in the starting line up led 2-1 in that very first play off match with six minutes to go, thanks to two goals from the late Ian St John, but the impressive Czech side equalised in the 84th minute to send the game into extra-time, before taking charge in the additional 30 minutes to run out 4-2 winners.

It is maybe typical of Scotland's frustrating football history at international level that, after being within touching distance of going through against Czechoslovakia, they would lose out to a team that would then go all the way to the final in '62 before being denied by Pele and Brazil who retained the trophy in Chile.

Would Scotland have been there against Brazil instead had their first play-off ended in success?

Some would say they'd certainly have come close with Dennis Law (then of Torino), Ian St John (signed from Motherwell by Liverpool) and Rangers greats Eric Caldow and Jim Baxter in the side.

Ian St John scored twice in the disappointing play-off loss

World Cup 1986
Another 23 years would pass before Scotland would be involved in another play-off and once again it would be the World Cup that would provide the Tartan Army with an extra hurdle. In the form of a two-legged tie with Australia enroute to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Australia had won the Oceania Qualifying group but were forced to play the runners-up in Europe Qualifying Group 7 to claim a place from that region in the finals in Mexico.

Scotland had lost the great Jock Stein in tragic circumstances in their final European qualifier in Wales when the strain of a hard fought 1-1 draw proved too much for the already frail Scotland manager who had looked pale and drawn before the 90 minutes that would sadly prove to be legend Stein's last. Alex Ferguson took charge for the Oz two-legger with the first game in November 1985 at Hampden.

Frank McAvennie's opportunism and Davie Cooper's expert free-kick put the Scots in a commanding 2-0 lead, but Jim Leighton in goals would have to be at his best in the 2nd Leg in December 1985 as Australia gave a good account of themselves. Drawing 0-0 first, Scotland would then deny them their first World Cup finals appearance in 12 years in the Olympic Stadium in Melbourne in front of a crowd of 32,000.

Scotland ended up losing 1-0 to Denmark and then 2-1 to Germany (Gordon Strachan scoring for the Scots) in the Mexico finals, before drawing 0-0 with Uruguay in a lack lustre final group game. The tie saw the South Americans reduced to 10 men within the first couple of minutes following a dreadful foul on Gordon Strachan.



Euro 2000
The Euro 2000 qualification play offs saw the Auld Enemy clash over two legs for a place in the finals. 

England took the upper-hand in a robust, yellow card led tense first game at Hampden, with a 2-0 victory and it seemed unlikely Scotland would come back against Seaman, Scholes, Shearer, Owen, Beckham and co in the 2nd Leg at Wembley.


Once again the contrary nature of Scottish international football shone through in the 39th minute when Christian Dailly sent Neil McCann away down the flank with his eventual cross being headed home by Don Hutchison for 1-0 Scotland.

Only the brilliance of Seaman and sheer bad luck prevented Craig Brown's side from taking the tie to extra-time, and Kevin Keegan was a relieved Three Lions Head Coach at the end as England squeezed through to Euro 2000 on a 2-1 aggregate.

Euro 2004
It is sometimes forgotten that the much maligned Bertie Vogts actually took Scotland to a play off for Euro 2004 qualification but, despite James McFadden scoring a cracker to give Scotland a shock 1-0 first leg lead at Hampden, the reality of the Vogts era bit hard in the second game in Amsterdam. Netherlands hammered the Scots 6-0 (Van Nistelrooy hat-trick) for a 6-1 aggregate victory despite in form Barry Ferguson and Darren Fletcher appearing for the visitors.

Euro 2020
Scotland's most recent play off saw them through to Euro 2020 as they made heavy work of beating Serbia away, taking a deserved lead via Ryan Christie, then throwing it away with the last touch of the ball, before winning a dramatic penalty shoot out after a 1-1 draw thanks to a super spot-kick save from Mitrovic by David Marshall.

It was also Scotland's first tournament qualification since World Cup France 1998. The Scots had beaten Israel on penalties too in their Nations League semi-final to qualify for their game against the Serbs, yes Scotland sure love to do it the hard way!

David Marshall was penalty hero v Serbia

World Cup 1950?
Some might argue Scotland actually first imposed a play-off on themselves in 1950, when both Scotland and England were invited to take part in the first World Cup after WW2 in Brazil.

The SFA said Scotland would only go if they were crowned British Home International Champions after the annual four-cornered tournament that ran through the opening years of organised football in the UK until the 1980s. The competition featuring Wales and Northern Ireland also, besides the Scottish and the English.

This effectively left Scotland having to beat England in their final match of the 1950 Home Internationals at Hampden to clear away their self-imposed exile from Brazil. Sadly they lost 1-0 and steadfastly refused to travel to the 1950 World Cup despite the invitation remaining open.

I think no such "free pass" to a finals would be turned down if it existed in the modern era.


By Alex Horsburgh, written for @TFHBs

©The Football History Boys, 2021
(All pictures borrowed and not owned in any form by TFHB)

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