By Liam Bryce
What is the meaning of life?
Is there a God?
Are we alone in the universe?
Why didn’t Stuart Armstrong pass the ball left?
Why did neither Charlie Mulgrew nor Craig Gordon deal with a cross which seemed to spend an eternity in the air?
These are just a handful of the great human questions which, quite frankly, will likely never have a satisfactory answer – especially those last two.
In true Scottish fashion, Gordon Strachan’s men managed to snatch a draw from the jaws of what would have been the most glorious victory over England in decades, and in doing so joined a long line of predecessors who combined to create the agonising history of our national team.
Two exquisite free-kicks from Leigh Griffiths overturned Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opener and sent Hampden into rapturous celebrations which will never be forgotten.
But then, seconds after the stadium removed hands from eyes as Eric Dier’s close-range free-kick was saved, there followed a handful of inexplicable decisions which will haunt the nation for years to come.
With a counter-attack beckoning, Armstrong opted to look for Griffiths to his right hand side just as Chris Martin was marauding into acres of space on the opposite flank.
His intercepted ball was lofted into the Scotland area and Harry Kane escaped Mulgrew to volley past a statue-esque Gordon, deflating the jubilant crowd and denying the Scots a famous triumph.
It was an all-too-familiar story for the long-suffering Tartan Army as they were once again left to reflect on what could have been – “this is how it feels to be Scotland” was the overriding, soul-crushing consensus.
Here we take a look at some of the most ‘Scotland’ moments of all time:
The entire 1978 World Cup campaign
“We’ll really shake them up when we win the World Cup, ‘cos Scotland are the greatest football team.”
Andy Cameron may be best known as a comedian, but the fervour which gripped the nation ahead of the 1978 World Cup meant that nobody was laughing at this infamous line from his pre-tournament anthem “Ally’s Tartan Army”.
The Ally in question, of course, was the national side’s eternally optimistic gaffer Ally MacLeod. This was a man so convincing in his assertions of impending international glory that he drew 25,000 people to Hampden for a lap of honour before the tournament had even started.
MacLeod travelled to Argentina with a squad containing the likes of Dalglish, Souness, Hansen and Gemmill, all plying their trade at the summit of the English game and all tasked with delivering for a nation whipped into a frenzy by MacLeod’s unshakeable confidence.
As Scotland fans by now well know – it’s the hope that kills you.
And so it did in the South American heat as the Scots, in typical fashion, won the only game in which they were expected to struggle – a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands in which Archie Gemmill scored THAT goal.
Sadly, it wasn’t enough to offset a 3-1 defeat to Peru and an ignominious 1-1 draw with Iran which spawned the other iconic image of the campaign, a despondent MacLeod slumped on the bench, head very much in hands.
Scotland 0-1 Costa Rica – Italia ’90
Buoyed by a qualifying campaign which saw them finish ahead of a French side containing Eric Cantona and Didier Deschamps, Scotland arrived in Italy with a very realistic chance at qualifying for the latter stages of a World Cup for the first time.
Brazil were heavy favourites to top the group, but being drawn alongside Sweden and debutants Costa Rica was a fairly favourable outcome for the side led by Andy Roxburgh.
Once again, however, things did not pan out as an expectant Tartan Army would have hoped as the Costa Ricans inflicted one of the most famous tournament upsets.
Aberdeen’s Stewart McKimmie was left bamboozled by a backheel from Claudio Jara before Juan Cayasso prodded past a flailing Jim Leighton to give the Central Americans a shock victory.
In the spirit of gallant failure, the Scots rallied to beat Sweden 2-1 and were a goalkeeping fumble from Leighton away from claiming a point against the Brazilians.
Netherlands 6-0 Scotland – Euro 2004 qualifying play-off
In isolation, a drubbing at the hands of a Dutch team boasting the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edgar Davids and a young Wesley Sneijder is not particularly shameful.
But, as stated with painful emphasis – it’s the hope that kills you.
Hope, in this instance, was provided by the youthful duo of Darren Fletcher and James McFadden, who combined superbly to give Scotland a famous 1-0 victory over their illustrious counterparts in the first of a two-legged play-off.
Until that point, Berti Vogts most notable contributions as manager ranged from a 2-2 draw with the Faroe Islands to a brazen attempt at convincing 16-year-old Wayne Rooney to join the cause by virtue of a Scottish grandmother.
And yet, after all the ignominy associated with his reign, Vogts was 90 minutes away from delivering Scotland to their first tournament since France ’98, and all at the expense of one of world football’s true heavyweights.
The country held its breath as the squad travelled to Amsterdam, hoping they could shut-out the Dutch superstars just once more.
What happened next is best summed up by Neil McCann’s, shall we say, ‘nonchalant’ attempt at tackling the effervescent Sneijder moments before he lashed the ball beyond Rab Douglas.
The floodgates opened as Van Nistelrooy ran riot, and once again the dreams of a nation were dashed.
Chris Iwelumo gives Alan Rough a heart attack
It was a moment which drew the most anguished piece of football commentary you are ever likely to hear, as radio double-act Ewen Cameron and Alan Rough, himself a former Scotland goalkeeper, spontaneously combusted at one of the all-time footballing gaffes.
“OH MY GOD!” Rough shrieked as Scotland debutant Chris Iwelumo inexplicably missed the target with the Norwegian goal at his mercy from the smallest of distances.
Gary Naysmith burst onto Scott Brown’s clever pass before squaring for the waiting striker, who could have taken a touch before tapping home, such was the amount of time on his side.
Instead, a half-hearted stab at the ball saw it drift inches wide of the Norway goal and a stunned silence fell over Hampden, the World Cup 2010 qualifying quest falling apart before it had really got going.
George Burley threw his arms in the air in anguish; Iwelumo bore the look of a man who wanted the ground to open up and swallow him; the match finished goalless; Scotland soon crashed out of contention and somewhere both Peter van Vossen and Ronnie Rosenthal breathed simultaneous sighs of relief.