Scotland went into their final group fixture knowing that at kick off, their World Cup destiny was still in their own hands. A win against Yugoslavia would see them progress to the second phase. Any other result would mean they would be relying on Zaire doing them a favour by avoiding defeat by more than two goals, a fact that seemed impossible given they were taking on the current World champions, Brazil.
A Saturday afternoon audience in Britain tuned in to either World Cup Grandstand with David Coleman commentating or ITV’s World of Sport with Hugh Johns on duty.
Scotland named an unchanged side from that which had played in the goalless draw with Brazil. Once again the heart of the side would come from the English champions with David Harvey, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer and Joe Jordan all being drawn from Leeds United. As if in tribute, Scotland’s change strip matched the Elland Road club’s all White strip, right down to the famous stocking tabs.
With Yugoslavia only needing a point to secure their progression to the second phase, after their 9-0 demolition of Zaire, the two sides entered the match with very different mindsets. The Eastern Europeans were happy to hold what they had got and the early stages of the game highlighted this as it was Scotland who started in the much more positive frame of mind.
Watching these old games back as highlighted how much the game has changed over the last 40 years, and some of it has been for the worse. Whilst some of the tackling at times bordered on brutal, it took a bad challenge to bring out the rolling around of players. What has also been quite illuminating to see has been the referee’s not scared to give decisions for indirect free kicks inside the penalty area. I cannot remember the last time I saw a decision for obstruction. In this match we saw Mexican referee Alfonso Gonzalez Archundia penalize Yugoslav keeper Enver Maric for breaching the four steps rule, handing Scotland an opportunity. Unfortunately for them the Yugoslav wall was out quickly to block the shot.
The opening moments saw Scotland probing down the left, winning a succession of free kicks as the East Europeans dug in with a “thou shall not pass” attitude. With Scotland’s attacking intent matching Yugoslavia’s obdurate defence, all the play was in Yugoslavia’s half.
However when they did attack they looked the most likely to open the scoring, a break down their left saw a cross find Ilija Petkovic who met the ball on the volley, just clearing the angle of post and bar. Then in the 12th minute Dragan Dzajic, the Yugoslav skipper, tried a lobbed effort from the left hand corner of the box which just cleared David Harvey’s crossbar.
Scotland’s tactics had not changed in all three games they played, their sole attacking tactic appearing to be find Joe Jordan’s head and hope for the best. Jordan was feeding on scraps, with the delivery not being the best in the early stages, and that may explain his lack of alertness when a long range shot deflected into his path, his slow reactions allowing Maric out to block the effort.
Yugoslavia’s ultra defensive tactics were frustrating Scotland, with the men in white being fouled whenever they came within 35 yards of Maric’s goal. When Bremner was kicked up in the air for the umpteenth time in the tournament, the Scotland skipper almost flipped his lid, jumping up to charge after his assailant, before crumpling in a heap as the pain in his leg forced him to pull up in pain.
10 minutes before the break Scotland were frustrated when a ball in from the right hand side by David Hay was just too far in front of Lorimer for the Leeds man to latch on to, evading every one as it drifted across the face of the box and just wide of the post.
The first half had taken place in the blazing summer sunshine, but the clouds seem to have come over as the second half kicked off, giving the players some respite. Scotland once again had all the pressure but lacked the craft and guile to break down Yugoslavia’s blanket defence. It was all out attack from the Scots, Sandy Jardine proving to be a potent attacking force from right back. He forced Maric into a save as he fired an effort from the edge of the area straight into the chest of the Yugoslav keeper.
Scotland were desperate at this stage, although with news filtering through that Brazil were only 1-0 up over Zaire, their hopes were still alive. Lorimer tried his luck from distance, but again the effort was straight at the keeper. Scotland threw on Tommy Hutchinson, the rangy winger brought on to replace the strangely ineffective Kenny Dalglish.
The 66th minute was a pivotal one. In Gelsenkirchen, Rivelino put Brazil 2-0 up, placing them level with the Scots and needing just one more goal to surpass them. That would have been academic had Scotland taken the great chance presented to them. A cross from the right was inevitably met by the head of Jordan, the striker heading across goal into the path of his clubmate Lorimer. Unfortunately “Lash” completely fluffed his first effort with his head, but reacted quickly to lift the ball over the keeper and towards the goal. Just when it looked liked the deadlock had been broken, Petkovic managed to get back and scissor kick the ball off the line and clear.
With 10 minutes to go disaster struck the Scots. With their first genuine attack of the second period Yugoslavia took the lead. A cross from the right was met by the substitute Stanislav Kharazi who buried his header past Harvey from six yards out.
With no more news from Gelsenkirchen, Scotland still had a glimmer of hope if they could grab an equaliser. With just two minutes remaining they firmly grasped what they believed to be a lifeline when Jordan levelled matters. The goal was a superb team effort, moving the ball the length of the field. In the attacking third, Hutchinson dashed to the bye line before cutting the ball back into the area. The ball fell to Jordan who controlled the ball and fired home.
There was no real time to press for the winner, and at the final whistle Yugolsavia celebrated wildly as they knew they had qualified for the second phase. For Scotland the agony was confirmed by confirmation that Brazil had beaten Zaire 3-0, the winner coming with just 12 minutes left. It meant that they were out of the World Cup, the first team ever to be eliminated without losing a game. It would be the start of three consecutive tournaments when they would miss out on qualifying for the second phase on goal difference. Their performance against the minnows of the group was their downfall, a pattern which continues to this day.