Since it’s a World Cup year, I thought I’d dig around memory lane and share some things I remember about old World Cups.
Group A, 23/6/1998, St Etienne
Loath as I am to start with a Scottish defeat, this is potentially the only game I can remember (other than a bizarre story in the Irish League where Bangor had to lose to stay up) where the side that lost had the better deal. Sort of.
Before the game started, Brazil were on 6 points, Norway on 2, and Morocco and Scotland each on 1. This meant that Brazil were already through to the second round to play Chile as group winners, with second place and a game against Italy up for grabs.
Assuming Norway did not beat Brazil (Brazil wouldn’t slack off having already qualified, would they?) the winner between Scotland and Morocco would go through. Even a draw would be enough for Scotland if Norway were well beaten.
Scotland started fine enough, but their defence was breached by Salaheddine Bassir firing past Jim Leighton from a tight along following a long ball. Scotland kept themselves in it and had a couple of chances, but after half time Abdeljalil Hadda latched on to a long ball and fired it towards Leighton who could only delay its inevitable trajectory into the net. 8 minutes later, Craig Burley got sent off and any chance Scotland might have had vanished. Morocco fizzed and brimmed with confidence, playing attractive football, largely thanks to the brilliance of Mustapha Hadji.
Their confidence would have been boosted when news came through of Bebeto giving Brazil the lead against Norway in Marseille. When Tore Andre Flo equalised for Norway a few minutes later, it didn’t seem to affect the players too much as Bassir got his second via a deflection of Colin Hendry.
Then, in Marseille Junior Baiano felled Tore Andre Flo in the penalty area, and Norway got a penalty with two minutes to go. Kjetil Rekdal was the man who broke Moroccan hearts, beating Taffarel (You can judge for yourself how soft it was by looking at this video from @usasoccerguy:
The Moroccan players didn’t know Norway were winning, but their manager did. The players celebrated on the final whistle like they won the World Cup, and they were roundly applauded by both sets of fans. I don’t think anyone who saw that game will forget the transition from joy to absolute despair on the faces of the Moroccan players as they found out they’d been knocked out, their only crime being that they didn’t get a result against Brazil.
I’ve yet to meet a Scot who doesn’t feel sorry for Morocco, but just imagine if Scotland had won the game and still gone out! I think I’d take the defeat any day…
Norway went on to lose 1-0 to Italy in a snooze-fest in round 2 (Morocco would certainly have given Itay a much better game) , while Brazil famously went on to the final, where they lost under mysterious circumstances (losing 3-0 to France wasn’t all that mysterious, but I don’t know if anyone will ever know what happened to Ronaldo that day). Strangely, none of Norway, Morocco, or Scotland has been to a World Cup since then.