Though the recent win over Slovenia gave Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup a welcome boost, there’s little doubt the Tartan Army have been doused down to their some of the lowest embers of late.
Granted, things aren’t quite as bad as the dreadful Berti Vogts era, though Gordon Strachan’s side fell short in qualifying for Euro 2016, despite the extended amount of teams able to do so, while the other Home Nations travelled over to France.
Little over nine thousand people turned out to watch a dismal 1-1 draw with Canada at Easter Road last month and, though there are some promising talents emerging for Scotland, interest in the national side has undoubtedly been on the wane of late.
Which is why today, which marks the birthday of one man who helped Scotland dream again, offers such a great juxtaposition to the current struggles. James McFadden, who turns 33 today, was a major part of Alex McLeish’s side that almost made it to Euro 2008, beating the mighty France along the way.
In a group also containing Italy, Scotland were up against it to make it to Austria and Switzerland and McLeish has since claimed his side were ‘cheated’ out of making the finals by UEFA, who would not allow either Les Blues or the Azzurri (World champions at the time) not to qualify.
While that remains an entirely different debate, no one could doubt the fact McLeish’s Scotland outfit had the Tartan Army dreaming during that heroic qualifying campaign. Having already beaten the French at Hampden Park earlier on in the group stage, a trip to the Parc de Princes looked rather daunting.
McFadden, who was playing for Everton at the time, scored perhaps the most famous Scotland goal since Archie Gemmill in 1978. Following the withdrawal of Kenny Miller from the squad in September 2007, a double header against Lithuania at home and then a trip to the Paris was always likely to be a difficult task for McLeish and his men.
These days, welcoming a side such as Lithuania to Hampden Park looks like the sort of banana skin Strachan’s men would all too willingly slip up on. Still, an assured performance in Glasgow on a sunny Saturday afternoon saw the home side run out 3-1 winners. McFadden rounded off the scoring after coming on as a 69th-minute substitute, as he geared up for a start just days later in the Parc de Princes.
Deployed as the lone striker against a French defence boasting serial trophy winners such as Lillian Thuram and Eric Abidal, shielded by the excellent Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira, the then 24-year-old was only ever supposed to be and outlet to occasionally take the pressure off of a beleaguered Scottish defence.
When you think of a man to lead the line, particularly when handed the task of manning their very own French resistance from the front, McFadden isn’t a player who instantly springs to mind. Garry O’Connor and Kris Boyd (though neither great) would have appeared to be more natural target men to help relieve pressure, with McFadden’s main abilities lying in his rather laid-back, skilfull play that saw him float across the frontline gracefully.
However, not only did the Glasgow-born forward help McLeish’s French resistance, he helped pull off a Paris coup.
Only two years after the French had reached the World Cup final over in Germany, they fell to their second defeat against Scotland in months, though only their second home loss in 13 years. Raymond Domenech’s side would implode only a few years later during the 2010 World Cup, though the attacking line of Franck Ribery, David Trezeguet and Nicolas Anelka should have been no match for their visitors.
As the Herculean efforts of Alan Hutton, Stephen McManus, David Weir and Graham Alexander kept the hosts at bay, McFadden’s wonderstrike would etch him into Scottish footballing folklore.
So many fantastic goals are crafted out of nothing. This the exact name. As the ball was pumped up field from Craig Gordon as the Scots looked to catch a defensive breather, McFadden would pluck the ball from the sky around 35 yards out and be duly afforded all the time in the world
With France standing off him and little support from his teammates, the world must have stood still for Scotland’s No.9. There was nothing on for him, only a star-studded French backline one way and the sight of his dogged teammates the other.
Turning and taking a few strides forward, McFadden unleashed a piledriver from around 30 yards out, a strike that flew past Mickaël Landreau. Even the ‘keepers hand couldn’t stop the strike wished on by the hearts of a nation who hadn’t come this close to a major tournament in just under a decade.
Many of the French contingent on the field that night had been part of the glorious World Cup and European Championship winning sides of 1998 and 2000, though could do little to stop McFadden’s famous strike.
Clearly, the hurt would continue for the Tartan Army in the years to come. But for one momement, against one of the best teams on the planet, they were allowed to dream once again.
For that, they have James McFadden to thank.