Scotland – Qualification for Italia ’90

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Having qualified for four straight World Cup tournaments, Scotland were probably relatively confident going into this qualification, despite the fact that they had failed to cause much stir in the previous qualifiers, those ahead of the 1988 European Championships. At least on behalf of themselves. It has to be said that they did their near neighbours Republic of Ireland a wonderful service by winning 1-0 away to Bulgaria in their penultimate qualifier, something which paved way for the Irish to make it through to a continental tournament for the first time in their history. Ending that campaign with a goalless draw in Luxembourg was hardly how they wanted to be remembered.

Despite only finishing fourth in that previous qualification, they’d only shipped five goals from six matches, and four of those had come during a really poor 4-1 defeat in Belgium. Defensively, the Scottish were very sound. They had played three winter and spring friendlies during the first half of ’88, as well as participating in the three nations strong 1988 edition of the Rous Cup (along with England and Colombia). Successive draws in Saudi Arabia (2-2), Malta (1-1) and Spain (0-0) had been followed by a goalless Hampden Park draw with Colombia and a bitterly disappointing 1-0 loss against arch enemy England at Wembley.

Andy Roxburgh had been appointed national team manager following the disappointment of the 1986 World Cup, where an interrim manager by the name of Alex Ferguson (Aberdeen supremo) had led their charges after taking over from his boss Jock Stein, who had collapsed through a heart-attack and subsequently tragically passed away. Craig Brown assisted him. Until his appointment, Roxburgh had managed various Scottish youth national teams: the U16s, the U19s and the U21s.

Coming into the 1990 qualification as second seeds, Scotland would again have fancied their chances of progressing through to another World Cup tournament.  Physically strong, the Scottish had only lost on home soil to other members of The British Isles in qualification games throughout the 80s: Both The Republic of Ireland and Wales had won by a single goal margin in Glasgow, in qualifying for the 1988 European Championships and the 1986 World Cup respectively.

Domestically, one of the two Glasgow giants, Celtic, were reigning champions, and would represent Scotland in the European Cup. The decade had contained various winners, and both Aberdeen (twice) and Dundee United had won the league title previously. Celtic’s eternal rivals Rangers were embarking on a third season under legendary player, now player-manager, Graeme Souness, who sought to challenge the champions for the title.

Scotland’s defensive solidity was underlined through tough players such as Richard Gough (Rangers), Roy Aitken (Celtic), Willie Miller/Alex McLeish (both Aberdeen) and Steve Nicol (Liverpool). They had a fine goalkeeper in Jim Leighton (also Aberdeen), and there were pretty much sound names all around. However, did they have necessary X-factor within their ranks?


Qualifier 1
14.09.1988, Ullevaal Stadion (Oslo)
Norway 1-2 Scotland
Goals: McStay, Johnston
Line-up (4-4-2): Leighton – Gillespie, Miller, McLeish, Malpas – Gallacher, Aitken (c) (Durrant 58), McStay, Nicol – McClair, Johnston
Two points from an opening qualification away fixture is what dreams are made of, and Scotland secure their win after a workmanlike performance. They are physically stronger than their opponents, and they capitalize from a piece of ‘poacher’s instinct’ as Johnston fires home a winner in the second half. Captain Aitken had been substituted in fear of him receiving a second yellow.

Qualifier 2
19.10.1988, Hampden Park (Glasgow)
Scotland 1-1 Yugoslavia
Goal: Johnston
Line-up (4-4-2): Goram – Gough, Miller (c), McLeish, Malpas – Nicol, Aitken (Speedie 70), McStay, Bett (McCoist 55) – Johnston, McClair
The Scottish continued their qualification with a strong point against a solid Yugoslavian outfit, although it could’ve been even better had McCoist’s late strike not been kept out by Ivković. Scotland had battled well all game, and they were good value for the draw, having moved ahead through Johnston’s second goal in two qualifiers. Taking Bett off early in the second half improved the Scots.

22.12.1988 Italy 2-0 Scotland
Line-up (5-3-2): Goram – Malpas, Gough (Speedie 87), Narey, McLeish, MacLeod – McStay (McClair 56), Aitken (c), I. Ferguson (Durie 76) – Gallacher, Johnston
A slightly depleted Scotland squad proved too lightweight for Italy in this friendly encounter. The hosts probably dominated to a greater extent in the first half than they did in the final 45 minutes, though both goals came after the break. Gough was adjudged, softly, to have fouled Serena for Giannini’s spot-kick goal, and later they added a second through a fine header. Roxburgh opted for a rare 5-3-2 formation in which he experimented somewhat with several players.

Qualifier 3
08.02.1989, Tsíreio Stádio (Limassol)
Cyprus 2-3 Scotland
Goals: Johnston, Gough 2
Line-up (4-4-2): Leighton – Gough, Narey, McLeish, Malpas – Nicol (Ferguson 10), Aitken (c), McStay, McClair – Speedie (McInally 69), Johnston
It was back to 4-4-2 for Roxburgh as they sought to add another two points to their tally and catch up with leaders Yugoslavia. They did move in front early through Johnston, the striker’s third goal in three qualifiers, but they failed to protect their lead for long, with Cyprus soon levelling. On a terrible pitch, Scotland opted for long balls, though they needed to come back from a goal down with defender Gough an unlikely two goal hero, the last of those six minutes into time added on. Ultimately, the Scottish team would need to seek refuge among the riot police to not be confronted with the many angry home supporters.

Qualifier 4
08.03.1989, Hampden Park (Glasgow)
Scotland 2-0 France
Goals: Johnston 2
Line-up (4-4-2): Leighton – Gough, Gillespie, McLeish (c), Malpas – Nicol, Aitken, McStay, Ferguson – McCoist, Johnston.

Qualifier 5
26.04.1989, Hampden Park (Glasgow)
Scotland 2-1 Cyprus
Goals: Johnston, McCoist
Line-up (4-4-2): Leighton – Gough, MacPherson, McLeish, Malpas – Nevin (Nicholas 74), Aitken (c), McStay, Durie (Speedie 59) – McCoist, Johnston
Yet another Johnston goal, his sixth in five qualifiers, set Scotland on their march for another win, taking them further ahead of the chasing pack in the group. They had big MacPherson making his debut at the back, and involved both Nevin and Durie along the flanks in an attacking set-up. They had to see Cyprus pin them back just after the hour, before a moment of sheer brilliance by McStay set McCoist up for the winner.

27.05.1989 Scotland 0-2 England
Line-up (4-4-2): Leighton – McKimmie, MacPherson, McLeish, Malpas – Nevin, Aitken (c), McStay, Connor (Grant 58) – McCoist, Johnston
Scotland would feel the absence of leading defender Gough, and they’d relinquish initiative almost from the start, and they were deservedly behind after the opening period, having conceded a 20th minute header. They lacked width, although Nevin did his best to address this. However, he was sadly alone. Debutant Grant showed some good battling skills after coming on, and Scotland almost capitalized with a goal of their own until their fight eventually fizzled out.

30.05.1989 Scotland 2-0 Chile
Goals: McInally, MacLeod
Line-up: Leighton (c) – McKimmie, Gillespie (Whyte 70), McLeish, Malpas – Aitken, Grant, McStay, MacLeod – Speedie (Johnston h-t), McInally
Leighton’s 50th cap, hence his captaincy. This ensured him and his family free tickets for all future Scotland internationals. An early McInally goal and a second half MacLeod strike, both respective first in country colours, ensured Scotland finishing second in the 1989 edition of Rous Cup.
Video: photos (worth seeing)

Qualifier 6
06.09.1989, Stadion Maksimir (Zagreb)
Yugoslavia 3-1 Scotland
Line-up (

Qualifier 7
11.10.1989, Parc des Princes (Paris)
France 3-0 Scotland
Line-up (

Qualifier 8
15.11.1989, Hampden Park (Glasgow)
Scotland 1-1 Norway
Line-up (


Final position: 2 (out of 5 – qualified)
Total record: 8 4 2 2 12-12 10
Home record: 4 2 2 0 6-3 8
Away record: 4 2 0 2 6-9 4

Player statistics

Number of players used:
Number of players including unused substitutes:
Ever-presents (720 mins):
Leading goalscorer:
Yellow/red cards:

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PlayerNor (a)Yug (h)Cyp (a)Fra (h)Cyp (h)Yug (a)Fra (a)Nor (h)  
Ferguson, I8056

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28.03.1990 Scotland 1-0 Argentina

25.04.1990 Scotland 0-1 East Germany

16.05.1990 Scotland 1-3 Egypt

28.05.1990 Malta 1-2 Scotland