Scotland vs Serbia Match Preview: “The Countdown to Rajko Mitic”

Date: 10th November 2020

A build up to the crucial fixture against Serbia, written by Ben Ramage, Reach Plc sport journalist and SFSA writer.

June 10, 1998 is a date that sticks fast in the memory of the Tartan Army.
When Scotland were front and centre of the World Cup party as they battled tournament favourites Brazil in the opener at the Stade de France in the north of Paris.

80,000 supporters in the stands awash with blue and yellow. Millions of football fans watching worldwide.
The significance of the occasion will always live on with me as through my seven-year-old eyes I fell in love with both the sport and the national team at the same time.

One of my earliest memories of the beautiful game, I watched the match with my dad and brother not through choice but through necessity.

While I was too young to get emotionally invested in football, particularly on the television, up until that stage something changed that afternoon.

Perhaps it was the sense of anticipation in my father, usually so calm and in control. He was restless, agitated, desperate for a Scotland reply after going behind so early on from a corner.
When John Collins stepped up to slot home that famous equaliser from the spot I had my first encounter with the football phenomenon of time standing still.

Heart in mouth, eyes peeping through the cracks in my fingers.
As the ball caressed the back of the net I saw my dad and brother celebrate like I never had before.
My usually composed father erupted in a way that I have now experienced countless times myself following the national side home and away, but that I’d never seen before in him.
Joy, unbound and wonderful.

Unfortunately I can also remember too well the feeling of deflation as Tom Boyd’s gutting own-goal set Brazil on their way to a narrow win that struck the hearts of the Tartan Army once again.
While crushing at the time the loss and subsequent departure from the group stage taught me a vital lesson. Don’t ever get too carried away with Scotland.

Unfortunately that is a lesson I’ve never quite managed to heed as qualification attempts have come and gone in the many years since that fateful tournament.

European giants Holland, England and Italy have tripped us at the final hurdle, along with some campaigns doomed to fail and those that offered hope but never quite got past the post.
The Nations League was much maligned when first introduced by UEFA, but who would have guessed it would provide our country with the best chance of qualifying since France 98’.

It certainly won’t be simple to get past Serbia. Even with coronavirus and injury rattling through their squad, they still boast enough top level quality to dish us out yet another heartbreaking 90 minutes.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that a trip to Belgrade is not as difficult as a derby at Wembley, or a battle against the reigning world champions at Hampden.

Particularly as the white-hot atmosphere the Rajko Mitic Stadium is famed for will be much colder thanks to Serbia’s supporters being kept out of the stands.
With Steve Clarke’s side on an enviable unbeaten run and with proven trophy and match winners in the squad, there’s no reason why we can’t dare to dream this might well be the time we end this horrendous run away from major tournaments.

A lot has changed since I fell in love with football back in June, 1998. My brother has recently become a father himself, and his wee boy will experience his first decisive Scotland game on Thursday which couldn’t be any more important.

We will all soon have a new date to remember. November 12, 2020.
Will it be unforgettable for all the right reasons or all the wrong reasons?
Time will tell but while there’ll be no Glengarry’s and saltires flying in the away end in Belgrade, let’s hope the boys in blue know they have an entire nation behind them.

We are all willing them on to end 22 years of hurt and suffering and, fingers crossed, the celebrations in front of the tv on Thursday night can inspire a whole new generation of Scotland supporters.


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