Scotland’s long and painful road back to the big time

While the world kept spinning, Scotland fell short in their attempts to reach major tournaments.

Scotland’s long and painful road back to the big time SNS Group

Where were you in 1998? What was happening in your life 23 years ago?

Perhaps you were still at school. Maybe you were enjoying regular big nights out on the town before children came along.

Some of you reading this wouldn’t even have been born…

One thing is clear, though – a lot has changed for all of us since Scotland’s men last graced the finals of a major football tournament.

We are in a different world from that day when Colin Hendry, Darren Jackson, John Collins and the rest of the Scotland team walked on to the pitch to take on Brazil in Paris to open the 1998 World Cup.

Scotland and Brazil line up before the opening game of the 1998 World Cup.SNS Group

In our personal lives, loved ones have sadly departed, jobs and relationships have come and gone, milestone moments such as graduations and weddings have been reached.

Society, too, has changed beyond all recognition. Scotland’s last appearance was pre-social media, pre-9/11, pre-Brexit and, of course, pre-Covid.

Since 1998, Scotland have failed to qualify for ten consecutive tournaments, missing out on the Samba beats of Brazil, the vuvuzelas of South Africa and even the big party in France five years ago when all of the other home nations qualified for Euro 2016.

STV News has looked back at the trials and tribulations of following Scotland over the last two decades through the prism of the cultural zeitgeist of the time, as well as the memorable moments on the pitch.

And don’t be too despondent. Despite the many failed attempts, Scotland’s qualification matches have provided some of the all-time great Tartan Army moments in the modern era.

Hopefully, this flashback helps to fuel some nostalgia of times gone by, as well as evoking happy memories of a lifetime spent following the fortunes of the national team.

Euro 2000 in the Netherlands and Belgium

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The Millennium Dome and Eminem both made headline news in 2000.iStockGetty Images

After featuring at both Euro 96 in England and the 1998 World Cup in France, most Scotland fans assumed qualification for major tournaments was a given.

Previous generations regularly saw the national team compete in major tournaments – five World Cups in a row from 1974 to 1990 – so why should this one be any different?

There was certainly nothing to fear from our qualifying group for Euro 2000. Plans were already being made for a Tartan Army invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands, providing we survived Y2K and entered the new millennium intact.

But it wasn’t the dawn of a new century that proved the biggest stumbling block. It was Lithuania away.

We didn’t know it then but the Balkan nation were to be a thorn in our side over many a qualification campaign.

Scotland drew 0-0 in Vilnius in September 1998 to get off to the worst possible start for Euro 2000. That was followed by narrow victories over Estonia and the Faroe Islands at Tynecastle and Pittodrie, setting up a crunch match against the Czech Republic.

Craig Brown’s side went down to a damaging defeat. A Matt Elliott own goal and a Vladimir Smicer strike gave the Czechs victory in front of more than 44,000 at Celtic Park.

An embarrassing 1-1 draw in the Faroes came next and the return match against the Czechs in Prague provided a near fatal blow to our hopes of automatic qualification.

The Scots raced into a 2-0 lead just after the hour mark, with Paul Ritchie and Allan Johnston on the scoresheet. But the Czechs came roaring back, scoring three goals in the last 25 minutes to win 3-2.

Paul Ritchie celebrates after scoring for Scotland in Prague.SNS Group

Scotland fought their way back into contention in the group, taking six points from Bosnia & Herzegovina. John Collins scored a crucial penalty kick in the home fixture at Ibrox to ensure a play-off place.

 John Collins scores the winner against Bosnia from the penalty spot at Ibrox.SNS Group

It all meant Scotland would have to beat arch-rivals England in a two-legged play-off to qualify.

Kevin Keegan brought his side – containing David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Alan Shearer – north of the border for a much-hyped Battle of Britain.

Scholes scored twice at Hampden and it looked as if the tie was done and dusted.

Don Hutchison did score a famous goal at Wembley to give Scotland a 1-0 victory in the second leg, but it wasn’t enough and the national team failed to qualify for the first time since USA 94.

Paul Scholes directs his header into the Scotland net to give England the lead.SNS Group

World Cup 2002 in Japan and South Korea

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The Queen Mother died and the Falkirk Wheel opened in 2002.Getty ImagesSNS Group

Despite the failure to reach Euro 2000, Craig Brown was at the helm as Scotland began their campaign to reach the first World Cup to take place in the Far East.

And it was a promising start on the road to Japan and South Korea. Scotland won in Latvia and San Marino before earning a valuable point in Croatia.

Kevin Gallacher’s equaliser sent confidence soaring through the squad in the final round of international fixtures before Christmas 2000.

Craig Brown congratulates Don Hutchison after the final whistle in Zagreb as Colin Hendry and Neil Sullivan look on.SNS Group

But a real punch in the gut was to come at Hampden the following spring.

Billy Dodds scored twice in the opening half-hour to give Scotland a commanding 2-0 lead over Belgium. Marc Wilmots pulled one back before the hour mark and then, deep into stoppage time, Daniel Van Buyten headed home an equaliser, deflating the Hampden crowd.

Daniel van Buyten (second from right) watches his injury-time header loop over the despairing lunge of Scotland goalkeeper Neil Sullivan.SNS Group

The writing appeared to be on the wall despite it being the first setback of the campaign. The Scots pressed on regardless, thrashing San Marino and drawing 0-0 with Croatia in Glasgow.

It had been a tight three-way tussle between Scotland, Croatia and Belgium to occupy the top two spots, and for the Scots it all came down to the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.

Nico Van Kerckhoven and Bart Goor scored as Scotland fell to defeat. Despite beating Latvia 2-1 in their final qualifier, Scotland were eliminated after Croatia beat Belgium to ensure Scotland finished third in the group.

Craig Brown immediately announced his resignation and Scotland now needed to appoint a new manager for the first time since 1993.

Billy Dodds is a figure of despair as Scotland's World Cup 2002 qualifying crusade hits the rocks in Brussels.SNS Group

The Tartan Army might not have been able to sample the bright lights of Tokyo and Seoul, but there was at least some Scottish success to celebrate before 2002 was out… Paisley-born David Sneddon won the first series of talent show Fame Academy.

David Sneddon won the inaugural series of the BBC talent show Fame Academy.SNS Group

Euro 2004 in Portugal

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The Scottish Parliament opened in 2004 - the same year that social media network Facebook launched.iStockiStock

‘Lucky Scots scrape draw in Faroes’

‘Faroes put Scots in denial’

The headlines were not kind after Scotland’s bid to reach Euro 2004 started in the worst possible fashion – an embarrassing 2-2 in the Faroe Islands.

Berti Vogts watched on in dismay in Toftir as schoolteacher John Petersen scored twice in the first 15 minutes.

John Peterson celebrates his second goal against Scotland with Pol Thorsteinsson. SNS Group

Paul Lambert and Barry Ferguson salvaged a draw, ensuring Scotland avoided the ignominy of recording the worst result in the nation’s history, but it was a disastrous start to qualifying regardless.

Back-to-back victories over Iceland only papered over the cracks until the next disaster – in the aforementioned Lithuania.

A Tomas Ražanauskas penalty in Kaunas saw Scotland go down 1-0 to leave them in a perilous position in the group.

Vogts’ homeland were up next at Hampden. Fredi Bobic gave the Germans an early lead but the Scots earned an impressive point after Kenny Miller latched onto a quick Colin Cameron free-kick to level the scores.

The return match in Dortmund saw Scotland go down 2-1, infamously provoking Christian Dailly’s ire as he shouted “diving cheats” during Vogts’ post-match interview.

In the end, Scotland made the play-offs after Darren Fletcher’s goal proved decisive in a tense, nervy victory over Lithuania at Hampden that secured second-place in the group.

Kenny Miller and Darren Fletcher celebrate goals against Germany and Lithuania at Hampden, respectively.SNS GroupSNS Group

The play-off against the Netherlands, however, was a daunting prospect. Dick Advocaat’s side was packed full of talent and included star names such as Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

In one of the most memorable matches of modern times, Scotland recorded a famous 1-0 victory in the first-leg. James McFadden played a clever one-two with Darren Fletcher and his shot deflected past Edwin van der Sar to send Hampden into raptures.

Steven Pressley looks on as James McFadden scores for Scotland against Netherlands.SNS Group

It was not to be, though, as the Scots were crushed 6-0 in Amsterdam in the second leg.

Just a month later, Michelle McManus from Baillieston won Pop Idol. Her song ‘All this Time’ went straight to No.1 in the UK Singles Chart.

The sentiment was not lost on Tartan Army foot soldiers wondering how much time would pass before they would see the national team once again grace the world or European stage.

Michelle McManus won Pop Idol in 2003.SNS Group

World Cup 2006 in Germany

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Italy won the 2006 World Cup in Germany.Getty Images

Greece had surprisingly won the 2004 European Championship, giving inspiration to smaller nations about what was possible with a bit of belief and team spirit.

For Scotland, just qualifying for a tournament would be a feat in itself. But the road to the World Cup in Germany hit buffer-after-buffer from the outset.

A dull, uninspiring 0-0 draw with Slovenia was followed by a 1-0 defeat to Norway in Glasgow – James McFadden seeing red as Scotland’s 19-year unbeaten record at Hampden in World Cup qualifiers disappeared.

The final nail in Berti Vogts’ reign as manager then came in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. Vogts watched a dismal 1-1 draw from the stands having received a touchline ban. He resigned a few weeks later after a tumultuous two-and-a-half years in charge.

Berti Vogts watches Scotland toil in Moldova from the stand having received a touchline ban.SNS GroupSNS Group

Former Rangers boss Walter Smith took the reins. Despite a 2-0 defeat to Italy in Milan, Smith steadied the ship and guided the side to victory over Moldova, as well as picking up a point in Belarus.

Italy came to Hampden in September, 2005, and a Kenny Miller header had the Scots dreaming of an all-time great upset. Fabio Grosso scored late on, however, and the match finished 1-1.

Kenny Miller steers his header home to put Scotland 1-0 in front against Italy.SNS Group

Scotland recorded an impressive 2-1 victory over Norway in Oslo but the campaign came to a crashing end with defeat to Belarus at Hampden – Vitaly Kutuzov scoring the only goal of the game.

An impressive 3-0 victory in Slovenia wrapped up the group – but it was too little, too late.

It was more disappointment for the Tartan Army after Vitaly Kutuzov scored the only goal of the game for Belarus.SNS GroupSNS Group

Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland

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Katy Perry burst onto the scene in 2008Getty Images

Scots watched the qualifying draw for the 2008 European Championship in Austria and Switzerland through their fingers as both 2006 World Cup finalists – France and Italy – were placed in Scotland’s group, along with Ukraine.

The general consensus was Scotland had about as much chance of qualifying as an extremist had of getting past John Smeaton at Glasgow Airport – the scene of a terror attack in 2007.

John Smeaton takes the acclaim of the crowd at Ibrox after his heroics during the Glasgow Airport terror attack in 2007.SNS Group

But this campaign was to be one of the most exhilarating, exciting and memorable for years.

Scotland got off to a roaring start, thrashing the Faroe Islands 6-0 and then, for a change, winning in Lithuania.

And then the Scots made it three wins out of three, with one of the national team’s most impressive victories on home soil in a generation.

Gary Caldwell was the hero, scoring the winner against France and their team of assembled superstars.

Scotland lost in Kiev in their next game and were dealt a further blow when Smith left the national team for a second spell at Rangers.

The impressive campaign continued, however, under the guidance of Alex McLeish – albeit he needed a last-minute winner from Craig Beattie in his first match to beat Georgia at Hampden.

Scotland lost 2-0 in Italy but then recorded victories over the Faroes and Lithuania to keep their dreams alive.

And then arguably the most iconic Scotland goal of recent times. McLeish’s side went to the Parc des Princes backed by a huge support from the Tartan Army who marched from the Eiffel Tower to the ground in full song.

They were in dreamland when James McFadden’s 30-yard strike proved too much for Mickael Landreau in the French goal. Scotland survived a French onslaught to hold on for a famous victory and move top of Group B.

Gary Caldwell and James McFadden scored against France in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.SNS GroupSNS Group

Scotland followed up the French victory by beating Ukraine 3-1 at Hampden. For once, fans’ nerves were settled by two early goals – from Kenny Miller and Lee McCulloch. Andriy Shevchenko pulled one back but McFadden sealed another impressive three points.

But it wouldn’t be Scotland without going from the sublime to the ridiculous.

On a haunting night in Tbilisi, Scotland – in a cursed ‘limited edition’ maroon strip – went down 2-0 to Georgia, who fielded three teenagers and handed a debut to 17-year-old goalkeeper Giorgi Makaridze.

Debutant Georgia keeper Giorgi Makaridze and a dejected Barry Ferguson.SNS GroupSNS Group

It made the visit by World Cup champions Italy to Hampden in November 2007 all the more momentous. The rain teemed down in Glasgow on a night when Hampden pulsated and rocked at its foundations.

Luca Toni scored within two minutes, but Barry Ferguson scrambled in an equaliser.

Then, Christian Panucci scored a heartbreaking stoppage-time winner for Italy following a heavily disputed free-kick.

This one was sore, very sore, to take and it meant Scotland had now spent a decade in the international wilderness.

Christian Panucci celebrates his winning goal for Italy with team-mate Luca Toni.SNS Group

World Cup 2010 in South Africa

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Getty Images

After the optimism and feel-good factor generated by the last campaign, it was dispiriting that the road to South Africa started with defeat to Macedonia in the searing heat of Skopje.

Ilcho Naumoski scored in the soaring heat of Skopje.SNS GroupSNS Group

Many Scotland fans found themselves locked out of the stadium after travelling without tickets for George Burley’s first competitive match in charge.

In truth, all they missed was Scotland toiling in baking temperatures, going down 1-0 to an early goal by Ilcho Naumoski.

Scotland then won in Reykjavik to get their first points on the board before Norway came calling to Hampden.

The match is famous for an astonishing miss by Chris Iwelumo on his international debut, the 30-year-old somehow failing to find the back of the net with the goal gaping wide open at his mercy. It finished 0-0 and the Scots were once again up against it in qualifying.

Chris Iwelumo misses a big chance to score for ScotlandSNS Group

Burley’s tenure didn’t get much better. He presided over heavy defeats to the Netherlands in Amsterdam and Norway in Oslo.

A memorable James McFadden solo goal was a rare highlight in a 2-0 home victory over Macedonia.

All flights in and out of Britain’s airports were cancelled following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano in April 2010, but Scotland were in no need of travelling to South Africa anyway.

All flights in and out of Britain's airports were grounded due to the plume drifting across northern Europe following the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano.  SNS Group

The Scots put in a brave showing against the Dutch in the final group game but went down 1-0, missing out on qualification and a play-off.

There was to be no African adventure.

But we certainly still heard the vuvuzelas all summer long…

Stephen McManus slides in on Arjen Robben at Hampden.SNS Group

Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine

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The Olympic Games took place in London in the summer of 2012.iStock

After the calamity of the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, Burley was out and Craig Levein was in.

He was appointed just before Christmas 2009, and had to wait a full nine months before his first competitive match in charge as Scotland boss.

It wasn’t worth the wait.

Scotland opened their bid to reach Poland and Ukraine with a 0-0 draw away to… Lithuania.

The campaign was on the verge of utter calamity in the following match, with the Scots only just beating Liechtenstein. It took a 97th minute winner from Stephen McManus to spare Levein’s blushes.

But that was just for starters – what happened next has gone down in Scottish football folklore as one of the most bizarre decisions in the history of the national team.

Levein lined Scotland up in a 4-6-0 formation against the Czechs in Prague, opting against playing a recognised striker. The move didn’t work as, perhaps unsurprisingly, Scotland didn’t score and they also failed to keep the Czechs out at the other end – Roman Hubnik scoring the game’s decisive goal.

Roman Hubnik celebrates his goal in Prague - a match in which Scotland manager Craig Levein selected a 4-6-0 formation.SNS GroupSNS Group

The performances under Levein to date had not filled the Tartan Army with confidence ahead of the visit by World and European champions Spain.

But Scotland put in a valiant performance – fighting back from two goals down to level proceedings at 2-2 after Gerard Pique turned James Morrison’s cross into his own net.

James Morrison celebrates after Pique's own goal.SNS Group

The night ultimately ended in disappointment after a Stephen McManus error allowed Fernanco Llorente to net a winner for the Spaniards.

Scotland’s next match was a crunch encounter with the Czech Republic in Glasgow – only a win would suffice to keep the qualifying dream alive.

The Scots led twice – through Kenny Miller and then Darren Fletcher – but were pegged back both times; the Czechs’ second equaliser courtesy of a controversial penalty in the last minute.

There was still time for Christophe Berra to claim a penalty of his own at the other end, but his appeals were waved away and the match finished all square.

Heartbreak for Scotland after conceding a late controversial penalty against the Czech Republic.SNS Group

Scotland now needed results to go in their favour but it wasn’t to be.

A 1-0 win in Liechtenstein was followed by a 3-1 defeat in Spain and yet another campaign had ended in failure.

The start of the 2012-13 season in Scotland was also notable for the appearance of Rangers in the fourth-tier of the football league system following liquidation.

 Ibrox pictured on the day Rangers served notice of their intention to go into administration.SNS Group

World Cup 2014 in Brazil

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Scotland went to the polls in 2014 to vote in the independence referendum.Getty Images

Several campaigns built up steam in the years leading up to 2014.

The Scottish Government and the UK Government signed the Edinburgh Agreement in October 2012, setting the terms for a referendum on Scottish independence.

Just a month earlier, Scotland began their quest to reach the rainforests and sun-kissed beaches of Brazil.

The prospect of sipping a cold caiprinha on Copacabana beach seemed a distant daydream after Levein’s side began by drawing with Serbia and Macedonia at home, and then succumbing to defeats in Wales and Belgium

Shuan Maloney and Gareth Bale on a wintry night in Cardiff.SNS Group

Scotland’s campaign was over before it began, and it was also over for Levein. He was sacked and Billy Stark took temporary charge until Gordon Strachan was appointed in January 2013.

Strachan was denied a winning start to his competitive Scotland managerial career when the Welsh came back to win the return fixture at Hampden 2-1.

There was now a slim-to-no chance of Scotland being in Brazil.

Forget those tropical climes, though, far too hot for the pasty Tartan Army anyway. They were much happier in their natural habitat – a cold snowy Novi Sad in Serbia for the next group qualifier.

Scottish supporters grafted hard to help clear the pitch of snow after a severe spell of winter weather in eastern Europe.

Their efforts went unrewarded, however, as Serbia cruised to a 2-0 victory.

Scotland fans help to clear snow from the pitch ahead of their side taking on Serbia in a 2014 World Cup qualifier.SNS Group

It was all about getting the team in shape for the next campaign now and trying to instil some pride in the remaining qualifiers.

And Strachan made a good fist of it. The remainder of the campaign saw Scotland surprisingly defeat Croatia both home and away, as well as winning in Macedonia.

The only remaining low point was a 2-0 defeat at home to the Belgians.

Steven Naismith scores his side's second of the game at Hampden as he follows up on team-mate Barry Bannan's penalty.SNS Group

So no Scots in Latin America in the summer of 2014, but there was another huge sporting event to keep us occupied that year, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt was among thousands of athletes and visitors who brought some colour and razzmatazz during the largest multi-sport event ever held in Scotland – and that has left a lasting legacy in the city.

Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates with the crowd at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.SNS Group

Euro 2016 in France

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The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a referendum on 23 June, 2016.Getty Images

Scotland were making a habit by now of drawing the most recent World Cup champions in their European qualifying group.

Just months after Germany triumphed in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana, Scotland were presented with the daunting prospect of starting their Euro 2016 campaign with a mission to Borussia Dortmund’s imposing Westfalenstadion.

The writing looked to be on the wall when Thomas Muller scored an early header but Ikechi Anya raced away in the second half and coolly slotted past Manuel Neuer to bring the Scots level.

Ikechi Anya fires the ball past Manuel Neuer to equalise in Dortmund.SNS Group

Muller scored again to win it for the Germans but the signs of a promising campaign were there.

A narrow victory over Georgia at Ibrox was followed by a draw in Poland.

Then, the Republic of Ireland arrived at Celtic Park for one of the key games in the group. A wonderful move from a corner kick saw Scott Brown set up Shaun Maloney to curl the ball into the corner of the net.

A big goal and a big win in the east end of Glasgow.

Scotland thrashed Gibraltar and drew in Dublin, leaving themselves in a strong position to qualify.

Shaun Maloney played a key role in both matches against the Republic of Ireland in Euro 2016 qualifying.SNS GroupSNS Group

It was never going to be totally straightforward, though. It never is with Scotland.

And a major bump in the road came in Tbilisi, where a 1-0 defeat to Georgia ensured it would be a tense race to the finish.

Germany won 3-2 at Hampden and then came the pivotal night in the group.

The Republic of Ireland sealed a shock victory over Germany in Dubin, while Scotland took a 2-1 lead over Poland at a raucous Hampden courtesy of wonder strikes by Matt Ritchie and Steven Fletcher.

A real gut-punch came in stoppage time when Robert Lewandowski scrambled in an equaliser.

Robert Lewandowski celebrates his last-gasp equaliser.SNS Group

Out in the sorest way possible.

Thousands went to the Algarve to see Scotland thrash Gibraltar 6-0 in the final game. But it was just a party in the sun, our qualification dreams had already disappeared in the flare-lit Glasgow night a few days earlier.

And to make matters worse, we were the only home nation not to qualify.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland were all going to France for Euro 2016, while the Tartan Army would watch on from home yet again.

It was the end of another campaign, but it was also the end of much-loved Scottish institution.

The last-ever T in the Park took place in 2016 after more than 20 years of hosting the biggest stars in music at Strathclyde Park, Balado airfield and Strathallan Castle.

A lost weekend at T was a rite of passage for many Scots and created many a fuzzy memory.

T in the Park attracted huge names and was a rite of passage for many Scots.Getty Images

World Cup 2018 in Russia

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Freezing weather conditions dubbed the 'Beast from the East' hit Scotland in 2018.Getty Images

It was now fast approaching 20 years since Scotland’s men appeared at a major finals.

An opening 5-1 victory in Malta heightened expectations for a trip to Russia, but they were quickly dampened.

A late James McArthur goal was required to salvage a draw at home to Lithuania, and then Strachan’s side suffered back-to-back 3-0 defeats in Slovakia and at Wembley on Armistice Day.

Scotland played some decent stuff and had some great chances to score in London but three headers from Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill ensured a decisive victory in the end for Gareth Southgate as he looked to permanently secure the England manager’s job.

Scotland were beaten 3-0 at Wembley on Armistice Day in 2016.SNS GroupSNS Group

Scotland looked to be down and out after a poor start in the group.

They gave themselves a chance, however, with victory over Slovenia at Hampden thanks to a late Chris Martin goal.

Then the Auld Enemy came up the road, just days after the UK went to the polls in a snap general election that saw Prime Minister Theresa May have her majority in the Commons stripped away.

Theresa May lost her majority at the 2017 UK General Election.Getty Images

And talking of having things stripped away…

It looked as though England were going to pick up three points in Glasgow after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored with 20 minutes left to play.

But then came three of the most remarkable minutes Hampden has ever seen.

Leigh Griffiths pulled Scotland level with a brilliant free-kick… and then did it again just moments later to put Scotland ahead, sending the national stadium into a state of utter euphoria.

This was to be one of the most famous results in Scotland’s long footballing history as a nation. But we have experienced plenty of stings in the tail in recent years, and this one was the most painful of the lot.

Scotland failed to clear their lines and a long raking cross from Raheem Sterling found Harry Kane, who guided in an equaliser deep into stoppage time.

Leigh Griffiths scored two memorable free-kicks against England at Hampden.SNS Group

Scotland didn’t let the disappointment derail their hopes, however, going on a fine run that saw victories over Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia.

It wasn’t quite to be though as a 2-2 draw in Slovenia meant the Scots missed out on a play-off place.

Roman Bekjak celebrates after scoring Slovenia's second goal.SNS Group

Scotland had failed to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But the nation’s women fared better, qualifying for the 2019 World Cup in France and in the process helping to raise the profile of women’s football in Scotland to an all-time high.

Scotland team photo ahead of World Cup match against Argentina.SNS Group

Euro 2020 held across the continent

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A quiet Aberdeen city centre during the coronavirus pandemicSNS Group

Gordon Strachan left in the wake of the failed bid to reach World Cup 2018, and it was Alex McLeish who led Scotland into UEFA’s new Nations League competition, which gave countries a second chance to reach the Euros if they failed to qualify the conventional way.

McLeish’s side won their National League group, finishing ahead of Israel and Albania in the table. It meant a play-off place was guaranteed regardless of how the national side performed in the traditional qualifiers.

And it soon became apparent that the backdoor route was absolutely required.

Scotland slumped to an embarrasing 3-0 defeat to Kazakhstan in their opening match, infuriating the Tartan Army faithful.

Scotland slumped to a 3-0 defeat in Kazakhstan in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier.SNS GroupSNS Group

A stuttering 2-0 win over San Marino did little to placate them and McLeish’s second spell in charge was over.

The new incumbent was Steve Clarke, fresh off the back of guiding Kilmarnock to a third-placed finish in the Scottish Premiership.

It was a nervy start for Clarke. Andy Robertson arrowed a shot into the top corner to give Scotland the lead over Cyprus in his first match in charge.

Cyprus equalised late on but a dramatic Oliver Burke winner ensured his reign got off to a winning start.

Steve Clarke celebrating Oli Burke's late winner against Cyprus.SNS GroupSNS Group

This was a tough group, however, and four matches against Russia and Belgium garnered the grand total of zero points.

In particular, it was a chastening night when the Belgians came to Mount Florida, racing into a 3-0 lead by the half-hour mark. And they had done it by hardly getting out of second gear.

Scotland looked miles off the elite and would need play-off success to end their long wait to qualify.

 Kevin De Bruyne (right) makes it 4-0 as he curls beyond Scotland's David Marshall.SNS Group

Scotland ended the group with victories over San Marino, Cyprus and Kazakhstan, and were set to face Israel in the play-off semi-final in March 2020 in high spirits.

But then came the coronavirus pandemic. An event of the magnitude we had never seen before – all football was cancelled indefinitely as the public were told to stay at home in a bid to avoid catching the deadly Covid-19 disease.

The Israel semi-final eventually took place on October 8, 2020, in front of an empty, ghostly Hampden Park.

It was a nervy affair, finishing 0-0 and going to penalties. The Scots prevailed in their first-ever shoot-out and impressively scored all of their penalties – Kenny McLean netting the pivotal effort.

Onwards to Belgrade and one final opportunity to put the Tartan Army through the emotional wringer.

Ryan Christie’s goal looked to have finally broke the hoodoo, but in the last minute of normal time – as a nation prepared to roar, Luka Jovic’s header agonisingly evaded Marshall and nestled in the back of the net.

No further goals were scored in extra time, it was penalties again.

And we all know what happened next…


Scotland players celebrate after ending a 23-year qualifying hoodoo.SNS Group