Not so long ago, qualifying for FIFA World Cups™ was almost taken for granted by Scotland. And no wonder. At the peak of their success, this nation of five million people was represented at five successive finals between 1974 and 1990, seeing off the likes of France and Czechoslovakia en route. Recent years, however, have brought something of a drought, with the Scots failing to qualify for the three editions since their most recent appearance on the world stage at France 1998.
FIFA World Cup finals history
Unfortunately, while qualifying became second nature, falling at the first hurdle also developed into something of a Scottish speciality. There were notable coups along the way, most notably a thrilling 3-2 win over finalists the Netherlands in 1978 and a goalless draw with holders Brazil at West Germany 1974, when Scotland were eliminated despite two draws and a win. Other hard luck stories and near misses followed, but Scotland won just a single point in their last FIFA World Cup appearance in 1998 and will be desperate to end their uninterrupted run of eight first round exits should they make it to Brazil 2014.
The current crop
After years of disappointments and looking in from the outside on major tournaments, Scotland appear to be on the up again, with manager Craig Levein masterminding a long-awaited revival in their fortunes. The current side’s strength lies in a midfield engine room in which there is genuine strength in depth, while defensive and goalkeeping options have also improved significantly since Levein took charge. The former Hearts and Dundee United boss still lacks a world-class centre-forward, but with talented wingers and the tireless Kenny Miller at his disposal, his side should provide a formidable test for even the most illustrious of opponents.
The key players
Manchester United’s Darren Fletcher is the team’s captain and midfield anchor, while playmaker Charlie Adam has grown in influence under Levein and is a major threat from set pieces. Scotland also possess two outstanding goalkeepers in Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor, with the question of which of them to pick one of Levein’s major dilemmas ahead of this qualifying campaign.
Coach: Gordon Strachan
Best performance in a FIFA competition: FIFA U-17 World Cup Scotland 1989 (Runners-up)
Former stars: Denis Law, Jimmy Johnstone, Kenny Dalglish