Scotland and the FIFA World Cup

The 1978 World Cup was one of the most memorable in the history of the competition not just for Scotland, who made it to the final 16, but also for neutral viewers. This was a fascinating and unpredictable edition of football’s showpiece event. Moreover, it is remembered as much for its unique atmosphere as its thrilling matches. The tournament was Argentina’s first as hosts and they took great pains to make it a special occasion. Archie Gemmill’s famous scissors-kick goal against the Netherlands in that same tournament became an iconic moment not just for him but for Scottish football in general. It came to symbolize a period when Scotland rediscovered their identity, both within and outside the confines of the national team. With that said, what exactly led to this renaissance?

The Dark Days of the ‘70s

Scotland’s period of dominance in the early 1930s came to an abrupt halt in the 1950s. For the remainder of the 20th century, the Scots became accustomed to falling short at major tournaments. The majority of the ‘70s was particularly uninspiring. Scotland failed to even qualify for the World Cup in 1974 and suffered embarrassing early exits at both Euro 76 and Euro 80. Their fortunes did not improve much during the final decade of the 20th century either. Scotland failed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup and was also edged out of Euro 92. Even though they hosted the latter tournament, they failed to progress past the group stages. This was Scotland’s worst ever performance at a European Championship. The Scots’ fortunes improved in the late 1990s. They topped their qualifying group for the 1998 World Cup but failed to progress past the group stages. Scotland followed this up with consecutive wins at the Euro 2000, 2004, and 2008. Still, it is fair to say that the Scots had not reached the heights of the 1930s since the early 20th century.

Stein was Scotland's manager from 1978 to 1986, overseeing the team at each of the following tournaments: the 1980 European Championships, the 1982 World Cup, the 1986 World Cup, and the 1988 European Championships. The Scots’ form at major tournaments improved greatly under Stein. They made it to the semifinals at Euro 84, the quarterfinals at the 1986 World Cup, and the semifinals at the 1988 European Championships. Stein’s greatest achievement as Scotland manager came in the form of qualifying for the 1986 World Cup. This came after a 12-year absence from the competition. Furthermore, the Scots were drawn into a relatively straightforward group.

Jock Stein and the 1977 World Cup qualifiers

Stein’s side made an excellent start to the qualification process. They won their first two matches, a home fixture against Wales and an away meeting with Northern Ireland. With these victories under their belt, Scotland was expected to qualify for the 1978 World Cup. However, the Scots struggled in their following two fixtures. The Scots were held to a draw against Israel at Hampden Park. This meant that they were forced to win their final fixture away to Wales if they wanted to secure a place at the World Cup. It was a make-or-break match for Scotland, who had to keep their World Cup dream alive. With the weight of expectation on their shoulders, the Scots traveled to Cardiff for what was expected to be a close encounter. The hosts took the lead during the first half, but Scotland fought back to secure an unlikely draw. The Scots’ last-minute equalizer meant that they went into the final matchday with an advantage. They faced Israel in Glasgow with a draw enough to secure qualification.

Scotland at the 1978 World Cup

Scotland faced an uphill task in the first round of the competition. They were drawn against Brazil, Italy, and Argentina in Group 3 of the second round. The Scots were expected to finish bottom of the group, but they exceeded expectations. They drew with Italy and Argentina, while narrowly losing to Brazil. Despite narrowly missing out on progressing beyond the group stages, the 1978 World Cup was a great experience for Scotland. They were able to play without fear but were also incredibly exciting. This was especially true in the Scots’ encounter with Argentina. This was one of the most memorable matches in World Cup history. Scotland held their South American opponents to a 1-1 draw at full time. However, in the final minute, the Scots were awarded a free kick outside the box. Stein’s decision to send the ball into the box caught the Argentinians off guard. The Scots were awarded a penalty after the Argentinian defender attempted a poorly timed scissors-kick.


The 1978 World Cup was a great success for Scotland. It was also a special tournament because of the unique atmosphere. The Argentinian fans were very excited and celebrated their team’s progress in a very flamboyant way. They also showed much respect towards their opponents and the tournament’s organizers. The 1978 World Cup is remembered for the great football played by many teams, including Scotland, but also for the unique atmosphere in Argentina. The Scots’ ascent to the semifinals of the competition marked a significant moment in their history.