Though they have a long and proud football tradition, Scotland are known throughout the world as something of a FIFA World Cup™ almost team. Despite having reached the finals on eight previous occasions, they have recorded just four wins in 23 matches and never advanced past the first round.
Of course, not advancing out of the first round is more acceptable than not reaching the finals at all, and after missing out on Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006, the Scots and their Tartan Army are desperate to qualify for the finals in South Africa. After all, the colourful supporters and their hard-working team were previously fixtures on the world scene, reaching the finals of every FIFA World Cup from 1974 to 1990.
There were fears that such glory days were consigned to the past
forever when in 2005, during the unsuccessful reign of Berti Vogts,
Scotland failed to qualify for their fourth successive major
championship, slumping to an all-time low of 88th on the
FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
The Scots' diminishing status in world football was emphasised when, with Walter Smith having succeeded Vogts, they were seeded low enough to be drawn in a very tough UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying section alongside both 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany finalists, Italy and France, as well as Ukraine, who had reached the last eight. No-one gave Smith's side a prayer of matching these football heavyweights, but a 1-0 home win over France lit the touchpaper for a remarkable campaign that saw them gazing down at the rest for much of the group's duration.
Smith's departure for Rangers was expected to have a negative impact but Alex McLeish took up the gauntlet and, to the amazement of the football world, achieved another 1-0 win over France, this time in the Parc des Princes. That win set up a make-or-break final day showdown with Italy for a place at Austria and Switzerland, but regardless of the outcome - a narrow defeat by the world champions - the emergence of Scott Brown and James McFadden, among others, helped restore Scotland's reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
McLeish soon left for Birmingham City, with George Burley filling his void. The former Scotland full-back will now attempt to navigate his country to South Africa from a group containing Netherlands, Norway, Macedonia and Iceland.