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Good Cheer Isn’t Enough for Scots

A great moment in journalism, no. But a great moment in the history of Scottish football?

Very possibly, judging from the gyrations and contortions of BBC broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove, perched in the press section high atop Stade de France, as Scotland’s John Collins prepares for a potential game-tying penalty kick in Wednesday’s World Cup opener against Brazil.

Cosgrove, dressed in tam-o'-shanter and blue, yellow and green tartan overshirt, turns his back to the field, closes his eyes and clasps his hands in silent prayer.

Then he turns around, grabs the metal railing in front of him with both hands and begins deep knee bends.

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Then he stands up, straightens his tam-o'-shanter, shakes both arms in the air and takes a deep breath.

Collins approaches the ball.

His kick beats Brazil goalkeeper Taffarel just inside the left post.

“YES! YES! YES!” Cosgrove screams, clenching both white-knuckled fists as he sprints left to right across press row, then reverses his field and wraps a bearhug around BBC colleague Tam Cowan, his TV talk-show sidekick, counter-clad in red, blue and green plaid.

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In the background, thousands of Scotland’s fans in kilts--Men Without Pants--roar and hop and dance while trying very hard not to flash one another.

Thirty-eight minutes into the 1998 World Cup, Scotland, which has never advanced beyond the first stage of this tournament, is even with Brazil, the four-time and defending champion, one goal apiece.

Seven minutes later, the half ends and the rest of the press section is abuzz:

Brazil looks flat.

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Brazil can be beaten.

What if Brazil ties?

If Brazil ties, the group is wide open. And if the group is wide open, after only 90 minutes of soccer, what are the next two weeks in the life of Brazil Coach Mario Zagallo going to be like?

How do you say “living hell” in Portuguese?

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Even defending World Cup champions are not above opening-night jitters. Brazil, a.k.a. Team Nike, a.k.a. Senor Ronaldo’s Neighborhood, is the consensus favorite to retain the cup, which would make Brazil the first World Cup titlist to repeat since . . . well, Brazil, in 1962, during Pele’s heyday.

Yet in this World Cup, Brazil awakens today unbeaten and untied, through no real doing of its own. The 1-1 score held through 73 minutes before three rapid-fire miscues by Scotland inside its penalty area resulted in an own goal by Tommy Boyd, leaving Scottish goalkeeper Jim Leighton abject on his back, Scottish captain Colin Hendry on both knees in the back of his net and the once-mighty Tartan Army reduced to sad silence.

A high lob played into Scotland’s box by Dunga set the Keystone Kops routine in motion. Scottish forward Gordon Durie, racing back to mark fullback Cafu on a burst up the right flank, tried to volley the ball out of the air, but swung and missed.

Cafu gathered the bounding ball on the first bounce and flicked it, with the outside of his right foot, toward the goal eight yards away.

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Coming off his line, Leighton blocked the ball, sending it ricocheting off Boyd and back past Leighton into the Scottish net.

Leighton collapsed on his back, Hendry fell to his knees and 15 yards away, Cafu was jubilantly bolting toward the sideline and no-hands somersaulting, a la Ozzie Smith.

Body language can be everything, as Scotland’s Coach Craig Brown later observed.

“The reaction of the Brazilian team after the second goal was interesting,” Brown said. “They seemed so relieved, so delighted. They knew they were in a difficult game. Maybe they felt they were lucky to win.”

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Cosgrove and Cowan, co-hosts of a comedy talk show for Scottish BBC, hurried out of the stadium before the final whistle had stopped echoing, finding absolutely no humor in these proceedings.

“Very, very shabby,” Cosgrove said of the decisive goal.

“Very, very poor,” Cowan said of Brazil. “The poorest we’ve ever seen them. When we played them in Seville in 1982, they beat us, 4-1.”

“That team was of a different class,” Cosgrove interjected. “Today, if we had lifted our game another 5%, we could’ve beaten them.”

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So it goes for Scotland, now 0-4 against Brazil in World Cups. Their rivalry, such as it is, has developed such a foregone-conclusion feel that many Scottish fans, as good-natured as any in the World Cup, have taken to wearing yellow Brazil jerseys with their Glengarry caps and pleated, plaid skirts--er, manly, ruggedly handsome kilts.

Some, attiring themselves wishfully, wore the No. 9 of Brazil’s fabled striker with the block letters “McRONALDO” stripped across the shoulders.

“We appreciate good football,” explained one member of the Tartan Army, Andy Wallace of Dundee. “And, we wear the Brazil shirt out of friendship. There have been 40,000 of us, Scots and Brazilians, partying together for a week in Paris--with no incidents. The Scottish fans and the Brazilian fans are friends.”

That is the beauty and the charm of the World Cup--the ability to bring people of entirely different upbringings and cultures together, arm in arm, for a few happy pints on the Right Bank.

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How it separates those different people, with penalty-kick shootouts, on off-the-shoulder own goals, that is the brutal business.


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