As of February 2017 Scotland sit fifth in their World Cup Qualifying Group, six points off the pace set by leaders England. In four matches they have picked up four points, beating only mighty Malta. It is highly probable Scotland will fail to qualify for Russia 2018, and doing so would mean missing a fifth consecutive World Cup.
From 1974 to 1990 Scotland actually did travel to five consecutive World Cups. And in 1978 they went to Argentina as a dark horse favorite. In ‘76 and ‘77 they had won back-to-back Home Championships, going unbeaten in both editions. A summer tour through South America in the year preceding the World Cup had netted a win in Chile (4:2), a draw with Argentina (1:1) and a loss to Brazil (0:2). Most important of all Scotland won three of their four qualifying matches, doing the double over Wales and splitting the series with Czechoslovakia, who had just been crowned European champions.
No wonder spirits were high. Sending the hype machine into overdrive was manager Ally MacLeod. The former Rovers winger wasted no opportunity to talk up his side’s chances, tipping Scotland to bring home “at least a medal”. An abundance of pop songs were penned and intoned, including one by Rod Stewart. Hampden Park hosted a grand send-off. Thousands of fans made the journey to Argentina. Their first destination was to be Cordoba, their first opponents Peru.
Blowing hot and cold, the 1970s were likely Peru’s best ever decade. At the 1970 World Cup, only their second showing ever, they reached the Quarter-finals. Eventual champions Brazil proved too stiff a competition, beating La Blanquirroja 4:2. Five years on the fates were reversed as Peru beat Brazil in the Semi-final en route to claiming their second Copa America title. Héctor Chumpitaz and Teófilo Cubillas had featured in both tournaments and were still staples in the side come 1978. The pair would combine for 186 career caps, and both would find their name on the teamsheet against Scotland.
Souness and Gemmill omitted from team sheet
On the other side, to the semi-initiated eye (read: mine) one name is missing: Graeme Souness had bossed the midfield in the European Cup final only a few weeks before. Contemporary football fans will also have been crying out for Archie Gemmill, whose omission from the team sheet still evokes disbelief. It is all the more compounded by Gemmill’s exploits in the competition later on.
Still, Scotland should be alright. The difference in ELO rating suggests, after some off the cuff calculations, a 72% win expectancy for the Scots. While the simple difference formula does not allow for draws, the quality discrepancy is apparent.
It did little to quell the nerves. Both sides look overanxious in the opening minutes. Peru start with a high back-line. Scotland, in turn, try to take advantage of that, keeping the number of touches low and the play vertical. Tom Forsyth bridges the midfield with just such a ball, clearing two lines of Peruvians. Dalglish had fallen back into the second row, turns upfield and laces a diagonal through ball for Asa Hartford. His shot, under pressure, goes wide (2’).
Scotland settle into the match quicker. From a throw in Hartford and Dalglish work the ball into the box. Don Masson does well to evade three tackles, loses his balance, and can’t place his shot (9’). Scottish international Joe Harper was on duty to provide color commentary. While scoring the first exchanges in his side’s favor, he quite succinctly pointed out they “might get caught out on the counter”. Peru had the numbers advantage in midfield, but not yet put the pieces together.
To cap off a strong start, Scotland score some actual points: In a well worked move down the left wing, Willie Johnston, Hartford and Dalglish combine to find their captain in the box. Bruce Rioch shoots right away. Peru’s goalkeeper Ramón Quiroga can only deflect it off to the far side, where Joe Jordan reacts quickest and taps in the rebound (14’). Incidentally it had been Jordan who had scored Scotland’s last goal at the 1974 World Cup, an 89th minute equalizer against Yugoslavia.
Peru dangerous on the counter
Peru had fallen behind only once during qualifying, away to Chile. Juan Muñante duly provided an equalizer. For posterity: South American qualifying split nine teams into three groups with the winners advancing to a second group phase. In 1977 Peru, Brazil and Bolivia made the cut and played a single round robin in one, presumably frenzied, week in Colombia. Whilst Brazil narrowly defeated Peru (1:0), they both battered Bolivia (8:0 and 5:0 respectively) to punch their tickets for Argentina. As a final qualification wrinkle Bolivia played and lost a two-legged Intercontinental Play-off to Hungary.
For the time being Scotland, when set in defence are hardly bothered by Peru. Though they are over-reliant on their one on one defensive skills. And if Scotland are lured out, pushing eight or as many as ten players into the Peruvian half, then Peru suggest they can be dangerous coming at Scotland with pace.
Just such a move, started by César Cueto, brings about the first big chance for Peru. It’s speedily worked into the box on the counter. Muñante plays Guillermo La Rosa into space by way of a one touch flick lay off. The centre forward tries to stab it home with the outside of his boot; an easy block for Alan Rough (24’).
Moments later Muñante, again on the break, blows by Kenny Burns, bursts into the box on the right side, and looks for Cueto on the far post. The pair’s timing is off by a split second (25’). With Scottish resolve wavering, Rough has to produce a fine save to deny Juan Oblitas (27’). Needless to say the chance had come about on the counter.
Peru’s wing focus
Half an hour in Muñante and Oblitas had introduced themselves to the Scots. Not just to Martin Buchan and Stuart Kennedy who were tasked to mark them. Stopping Peru’s wingers would be a job for the whole side.
Peru’s play hinges on their wingers: When defending the wingers drop back and tuck in, Peru’s shape would resemble a 4-5-1, the midfield five forming a V-shape. When defending deep the wingers would sometimes drop back next to, and outside of, the full backs to form a six man back-line.
On attack, in a most devastating move the wingers would drop back into midfield for the swingaround, working their way over to the far side. Though not actually interchange to switch sides. Either of the central attacking midfielders, Cueto and Cubillas, could combine with the winger on their respective side and centre forward La Rosa to move the ball forward. La Rosa would be very involved, providing lay-offs with the back to the goal but also dropping back and starting give-and gos with the face to the goal himself.
Scotland meanwhile struggle to get their passes into the first row to stick. Dalglish is not dummying as well anymore, Jordan is quickly dispossessed. Bucking the trend Masson connects with Jordan inside the box. In a rare Manchester United Liverpool co-production Jordan lays off a header for Dalglish. All British footballing magic thusly spent, Quiroga gets his fingertips on Dalglish’s lob attempt (29’).
Approaching half time Scotland manage to stifle the Peruvian flurry by taking out any pace whatsoever. Back passes to Rough draw jeers from the crowd.
Peru equalize just before the break
Peru, though, have one move left in them before the break. Cubillas starts the attack deep on the left wing, getting Velásquez involved. El Patrón shrugs off two defenders and plays it back to Cubillas. Cueto had started a run inside, receives an unwieldy pass from Cubillas, and takes it onto his chest into the box. Forsyth misses a challenge, allowing Cueto to hammer home the equalizer past Rough (43’). The unlikeliest of fixtures had provided 45 minutes of end to end action.
To start the second half Scotland have more of the possession but hardly anything to show for it. They are not variable enough, can not get width to their attack. As Muñante and Oblitas now start more runs from deep, sticking to their outside channels, all of the Scottish full backs and wide midfielders are occupied in defence. Peru prove the snappier side when on the ball, the decisive sharpness in the final third of the pitch is missing for both.
Still, a combination of defensive errors, quick changes in play direction and individual brilliance produce chances by the minute: Oblitas makes two defenders miss, assisting an uncontested La Rosa header which goes wide (49’). Dalglish lobs one up for a tightly marked Jordan. His header clanks off the bar (51’). Muñante cuts inside, gets into the box, and aims a shot at the far corner. It swerves off target (54’).
With an hour gone, Johnston can advance the ball on the right wing. He creates some space to cross and finds Jordan at the far post. Once again the striking partners link up, as Jordan lays off a header. Dalglish receives the ball with his back to goal, shields it against one defender, turns, and shoots. It’s blocked by a second defender coming across to help. The ensuing corner almost proves costly: Put in by Masson, Burns plays it on towards the far corner, where Jordan had escaped his marker. A deft first touch drop kick shot is parried away by Quiroga. Some brilliant goalkeeping lays waste to the best Scottish chance since the opening goal.
Scotland squander their chances, Cubillas doesn’t
More of the same then, really, when Scotland can’t capitalize on a penalty a few minutes later. Diaz had taken out Rioch with a clumsy tackle. Masson steps up, having scored from the spot against Wales in qualifying and against Argentina on the summer tour. Peru show their mind games expertise, burning their first substitution at that very moment, bringing on Hugo Sotil for La Rosa. Masson goes for the left side of the goal, but the shot comes at a good height for the keeper. Quiroga has the side and pushes the spot kick away (64’).
A bit of rain makes for a slippery ground, but the challenges now flying in are rough. Scotland are smarting from the missed penalty.
Peru, in the form of Cubillas, pick them off easily. El Nene is on the ball 30 yards out in a central position. Nobody is on him, nobody closes him down. He takes a few steps forward and just has a go, slicing a ball around the defenders in front of him, tucking it just inside the post for the 2:1 (71’).
A few minutes later Muñante, with a terrific 50 yard pass, sends Oblitas down the left wing. Kennedy brings him down just outside the box drawing a free kick in a similar position to Cubillas’ shot; to the left of the face of the goal, this one a bit closer to the target. Muñante feints, runs over the ball to leave the free kick for Cubillas. Again he slices a shot with the outside of his right boot, curling it around the left side of the wall. Rough gets a hand on it, but can’t keep it out (77’).
In between, MacLeod had brought on Gemmill and Macari for Rioch and Masson. To little effect. Scotland do play on and push everybody forward, but are reduced to one on ones, are caught in possession, and are altogether easy fodder for Peruvian counter attacks. The last notable scene comes from Buchan jumping into Sotil, leg outstretched at chest height. A nasty challenge summing up Scotland’s play in the last half hour.
Peru end up topping Group 4 which also includes Holland and Iran, having earned a goalless draw against the former, and blasting away the latter (4:1). Scotland follow up the defeat to Peru by drawing 1:1 with Iran and then pulling off a stunning 3:2 against Holland. Had the winning margin been two goals higher Scotland would have advanced to the Second round in Holland’s stead.
- Man Of The Match: Cubillas gets the nod for the brace; honourable mentions to Oblitas, Muñante, and Quiroga
- Best Hair: Alan Rough
- Viewing recommendation: Unequivocally yes; full match over on Youtube
- Willie Johnston reflects on a career ultimately blighted by that bizarre incident in Argentina (The Herald)
- Scotland’s 1978 rollercoaster (The Guardian)
- Scotland’s 1978 World Cup adventure… when manager Ally MacLeod believed his side were unbeatable (The Telegraph)
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