Scotland 3-2 Holland
World Cup finals group stage, June 11, 1978
Scotland travelled to Argentina with motormouth manager Ally MacLeod claiming they would come back with “at least a medal”. They then lost to Peru in their opening game, and drew with Iran. Their final group match was against Holland, who only needed to avoid a three goal defeat to reach the knockout stage. Surely an impossible job for the men in blue…
Kenny Dalglish (44)
Archie Gemmill (47 (pen), 68)
Rob Rensenbrink (34 (pen))
Johnny Rep (72)
World Cup finals, Group Phase,
June 11, 1978
Estadio Mendoza, Mendoza, Referee: Erich Linemayr, Att: 35,130
Having performed poorly in their two previous games, the Scots suddenly found their passion, drive and quality against an excellent Holland side.
Lady luck shined on Scotland too, as Dutch playmaker Johan Neeskens suffered an early rib injury in a challenge with Archie Gemmill and was withdrawn after just 10 minutes.
But it was Holland who took the lead on 34 minutes when Scotland defender Stuart Kennedy and keeper Alan Rough conspired to bring down Johnny Rep in the penalty box.
Rob Rensenbrink confidently dispatched the spot-kick. But Dutch defender Wim Rijsbergen looked uncomfortable with an injury and the uncertainty this brought to the Dutch defence gave Scotland hope. A minute before half-time, they drew level when Joe Jordan headed back across goal and Kenny Dalglish was on hand to prod the ball home.
Scotland came out of the traps strongly in the second half and within two minutes they were in front after Graeme Souness was brought down in the box. Gemmill stepped up to put the Scots ahead, but it was still hard to see Scotland creating the three-goal winning margin they needed.
On 68 minutes, however, one moment of genius from the wee man Gemmill had everyone hoping against hope that somehow Scotland could make the impossible possible. Picking up the ball on the right-hand edge of the Dutch box, Gemmill skipped his way majestically through three despairing tackles before coolly slipping the ball over advancing keeper Jan Jongbloed.
For a split second, everybody felt that Scotland were going to do it. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Four minutes later, Johnny Rep unleashed an unstoppable shot from 30 yards out. Scotland won 3-2, but MacLeod’s team were out. But for one brief moment, Gemmill's piece of magic put Scotland in wonderland.
The diminutive yet combative midfielder passed into legend after scoring that magic third goal and even if he says he’s a bit embarrassed by all the fuss, Gemmill’s goal will always be ranked amongst the finest ever moments in Scottish football history.
British footballing folklore barely mentions Rep’s astonishing and brilliant long-range strike, coming just four minutes after Archie Gemmill’s goal. But it was not only a hugely important score that put paid to any thoughts of an unlikely Scottish comeback, it was also a piece of footballing genius in its own right.
Liverpool’s in-form midfielder had inexplicably been omitted from the starting line-up for Scotland’s first two games. Restored to the team against Holland, Souness proceeded to run the game from the middle of the park, making many Scotland fans wonder about what might have been had Souness started all three games.
Did You Know...?
Rensenbrink’s 34th-minute penalty was the 1,000th goal scored in World Cup history.
Scottish ballet dancer and choreographer Andy Howitt was so taken with the grace of Archie Gemmill’s third goal that he created a dance piece in celebration of its beauty.
Gemmill’s legendary goal also featured in a memorable scene from the film Trainspotting where Ewan McGregor’s character Renton indulges in some vigorous sex, then claims “I haven’t felt that good since Archie Gemmill scored against Holland in 1978.”
What Happened Next
Scotland returned home with manager MacLeod’s pre-tournament boasting ringing in their ears. The Scottish football authorities held an inquest into what had gone so badly wrong, but decided to stick with MacLeod. After just one more game, however, MacLeod resigned his position anyway. Ally’s Tartan Army were consigned to history.
Holland got over the shock of nearly blowing their lines against Scotland by going all the way to the final, where they were beaten 3-1 in extra time by Argentina. The Dutch accused the host nation of gamesmanship and refused to attend the post-match celebrations in protest.
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