On Thursday (24 March), Scotland begin their quest to reach the World Cup Finals in Qatar 2022 by taking on Austria at Hampden Park.
The game instantly brings back memories of the France ’98 qualifier back in April 1997, the last time the two sides met in a competitive qualifying match. With the National Stadium going through the final process of its redeveloping stage, games were moved around the country, and Celtic Park was the chosen venue for this crucial qualifier.
Scotland went into the game on the back of a 2-0 win over Estonia at Rugby Park, which slightly atoned their surprise 0-0 draw with the Estonians in Monaco after the “one team in Tallin” fiasco. Having taken a goalless draw from their opponents in the opening game in Vienna, the feeling was that this was a must win match against one of their main rivals for qualification. After that opening draw with the Scots, the Austrians won their next two matches, including an away win in Sweden, so they were quietly confident going to Parkhead.
Craig Brown made a couple of big changes to the starting eleven, most notably in midfield. John Collins returned from suspension to take the place of Scott Gemmill, whilst Paul Lambert, starring for Borussia Dortmund, came in for Paul McStay. Up top, Brown persevered with a front two of Darren Jackson and Kevin Gallacher, and what a move it would turn out to be.
Buoyed by a passionate home crowd, the Scots started on the front foot and got their rewards midway through the first half. Jackson’s pace got him in behind the Austrian defence and his effort was saved by Michael Konsel. Jackson then got to the rebound to stab the ball across goal where Gallacher, who started the move by releasing his partner down the left hand channel, was lurking to lash the ball into the roof of the net. It was Gallacher’s first international goal since October 1993 in Italy, though he did have close to two years out having suffered two career-threatening leg breaks.
Scotland could’ve been two up at half time but a Collins effort went narrowly wide of the post, but they could be pleased with their display with the pace of Jackson in particular causing the Austrian rearguard so many problems. This led to the visitors taking off defender Peter Schoetel at the break as he was another booking away from an early bath. One defender definitely lucky to stay on the park was Wolfgang Feiersinger, who took Jackson out with a blatant body check as he was about to motor past him. Unbelievably, the referee waved play on!
With the score so tight, there was always the danger of an equaliser and Austria nearly got one when Ivica Vastic found space inside the 18 yard box. Thankfully for the Scots, veteran Jim Leighton spread himself to make a crucial save in the only occasion he was called upon all night, and Scotland’s lead remained in tact.
Inside the last twenty minutes, Scotland got that goal that put the result beyond doubt – and what a goal it was too.
Lambert’s attempted pass towards substitute Gordon Durie was deflected off Feiersinger into the path of Gallacher. The Blackburn striker instinctively chested the ball down before unleashing an unstoppable right-footed half-volley off the post and into the top right hand corner of Konsels goal. It was a goal fit to win any game and for Gallacher it was more memorable for the fact it was scored at the home of his boyhood team. More importantly, it sealed three vital points for Scotland in their quest to reach France ’98.
As it transpired, both sides made the following summer’s World Cup, and neither have been back at the World’s greatest footballing showpiece since, though Austria have been at two European Championships since then. A repeat outcome would be well received by Steve Clarke this evening as we hope to get our latest World Cup bid off to a solid start.