World Cup Part 8: Scotland v Costa Rica, 1990

RICH BEEDIE laments the day Scotland first disappointed him, giving him a taste of things to come following his national team

The other matches in this series will talk of games with moments of breath-taking skill, outrageous controversy or just plain old goal-fests. My tale is none of those but still lives in the memory as one that taught me a valuable lesson about my international side.

I’m a Bury fan, as that’s where I was brought up, however, my place of birth – and that of all my family – was Scotland. I’m a proud Scot, even if I don’t sound it having moved south at 18-months-old, but – sadly – it makes Scotland my national team. Down the years they have regularly disappointed, though it wasn’t always this way. In my formative football years, I naïvely believed they were good. This was the early eighties, on paper a golden period for Scottish football, but what is it about ‘Golden Generations’?

Back then every successful English side had a least one Scotsman, Liverpool so dominant in that period teemed with them. Plenty of talent remained north of the border with Aberdeen and Dundee United shaking up the old order and even – in the case of Alex Ferguson’s Dons – gaining success in Europe. Internationally Scotland had qualified for the last five World Cup Finals as they set off for Italy, trumping England who missed the 1974 and 1978 gatherings. Ah yes, 1978, a nadir for many Scots given the pre-tournament hype and the huge subsequent disappointment, but not for me.

Spain 1982 was my first World Cup and despite going out at the first-round stage it had been a difficult group – alongside the Brazil of Zico and Socrates and a strong U.S.S.R. – Scotland only missing out on the second round on goal difference. Mexico 1986 provided another tough draw, the ‘group of death’; they faced previous winners West Germany and Uruguay, as well as a very talented Danish team. They suffered single-goal defeats to the Danes and Germans but still had a chance of reaching the second round – for the first time ever – as a best third-placed team, if they could beat Uruguay. The South American’s – a man down after a minute, a World Cup record – held out for a draw and Scotland were out.

By Italia ’90 I was a seasoned club supporter but still a little naïve with Scotland despite their shortcomings in 1982 and 1986. The draw seemed altogether kinder this time; a stoic, dour Brazil, an un-rated Sweden and a team considered there just to make up the numbers, Costa Rica. I had not hidden my Scottishness, or my confidence, in the build-up to the game at work – my first job – taking the afternoon off to watch the predicted rout. This was our year, I proclaimed, to qualify for the knock-out stages with Costa Rica a mere pawn. Instead, I got a lesson in the true pain and misery Scotland has always inflicted upon its followers.

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What us Scots hadn’t realised, as the teams lined up at the iconic Luigi Ferraris Stadium, was the coach of the Costa Ricans was Bora Milutinovic. The Serb was relatively unknown despite coaching hosts Mexico in 1986, taking them to the quarter-finals only to lose to Germany on penalties. He went on to coach at the next four World Cups following Mexico, with four different countries, getting three to the knock-out stages – including Costa Rica. He was known for his well-drilled, organised, counter-attacking teams, something we found out painfully that afternoon in Genoa.

The Scots were best described as workmanlike, shorn of the skills of Davie Cooper, due to injury. They started with Paul McStay and Jim Bett in midfield, both fine passers of the ball but without the necessary skill to unlock the stubborn Costa Rican defence. The team lacked the pace, guile or width to stretch the Central Americans, and would pay the price. Scotland dominated the first half going close through Aitken, Gough and McCall, but only Mo Johnston really tested Conejo in the Costa Rican goal. I’d watched enough football by then to know it was going to be one of those days, and on those days, it inevitably gets worse. After 50 minutes it did.

A rare Costa Rican attack saw a back-heeled pass from Jara leave Cayasso running through on goal, who clipped a lovely finish over Leighton, leaving the Scots a mountain to climb. We toiled in vain, still dominating possession but never really looking like scoring, a double-save from efforts by Johnston and McStay, the closest we came. The performance summed up by a wild strike from Davie McPherson that skewed well high and wide. Costa Rica came closer to scoring again than we did. A thorough ribbing awaited at work next day.

The result made the difference given the Swedes lost to everyone but, more importantly, brought into focus the reality of life as a Scotland fan. It made me realise we were forever doomed to fail, something 28 years later they have yet to convince me otherwise.

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