Not him again! Serbian mastermind Bora Milutinovic – the man in charge of Costa Rica when they embarrassed Scotland at Italia 90 – predicts more misery in crunch Euro 2020 play-off
- Bora Milutinovic was in charge of Costa Rica when they beat Scotland at Italia 90
- ‘The Miracle Worker’ managed five nations at five consecutive World Cup finals
- Serbian managerial mastermind is predicting more misery for Scotland tonight
- Steve Clarke’s side are in Serbia hoping to book place at Euro 2020 next year
Bora Milutinovic inflicted misery on Scotland on the biggest footballing stage of all.
And Serbian football’s most famous son suspects his homeland will prolong the international agony tonight.
After taking charge of five different nations at consecutive World Cup finals, Milutinovic earned a new nickname.
Serbian mastermind Bora Milutinovic is predicting more footballing misery for Scotland
‘The Miracle Worker’ led hosts Mexico to the quarter-finals in 1986. Four years later, he was in charge of Costa Rica when they embarrassed Andy Roxburgh’s Scotland at Italia ’90.
The Central American minnows even reached the second stage of the tournament in what was their first-ever appearance at the finals.
Before masterminding one of that World Cup’s biggest upsets by beating the Scots 1-0 in Genoa, Milutinovic made a spying trip to Glasgow to watch Roxburgh’s men defeat World Champions Argentina in a warm-up game for the finals.
‘I came to Glasgow and saw a beautiful stadium, a full stadium,’ says the now 76-year-old.
‘Scotland won 1-0 against Diego Maradona’s Argentina. I bought so many videos of the league and the cup games, everything.
‘And you know what I decided? I decided to not show them to my players. Why? Because Scotland played so good, with intensity.
Milutinovic was in charge of the Costa Rica side who embarrassed Scotland at Italia 90 (above)
‘I thought: “I don’t want to show my players or they will be afraid”. It’s better to not speak about Scotland. Only about football.’
After beating the Scots, thousands of Costa Ricans flocked on to the streets back home. ‘This is extraordinary,’ said a euphoric President, Rafael Angel Calderon. ‘This is driving us crazy with satisfaction.’
Rank outsiders, they were expected to finish bottom of a group which also featured Sweden and Brazil.
In an interview with new digital service Football Pass, Milutinovic remembers some inauspicious preparations.
‘We didn’t play any friendly games,’ he says. ‘I came 70 days before the World Cup in 1990. But, with 11 players I had in my mind, we trained and trained.
‘Eventually we played one game and I didn’t play my full team — it was against Wales and we lost 1-0.
Scotland’s Paul McStay (second left) is challenged for the ball in the Italia 90 clash in Genoa
‘Somebody asked me: ‘Is this your team for the World Cup?’
‘But what was very important for my team was that we never spoke about opponents. We only thought about what we needed to do in every moment of the game.
‘Beating Scotland was one of the greatest surprises of the World Cup, maybe ever.
‘Normally when a team plays their first World Cup they only win one point. We won two games and went through to the next round.
‘That was something I am never going to forget.’
After 22 years in the international wilderness, a defeat to Costa Rica in the opening game of a major tournament is the kind of humiliation Scotland could deal with now. First they have to get there.
Milutinovic managed five different countries in five consecutive World Cup finals tournaments
Standing between Steve Clarke’s side and the Euro finals is a Serbian team which is less than the sum of its parts. Despite reaching the 2018 World Cup, a team boasting the likes of Dusan Tadic, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic remain patchy and inconsistent under coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic.
‘In the last World Cup, the team was not at a high level. But now is an opportunity to come good in Europe,’ adds Milutinovic.
‘I am sure with the players we have, that we have a chance to be winners.
‘Everything is different. Now it’s a new coach. We played against Norway in the play-off semi-final and won there and that was incredible, we played very good.
‘I hope we have a very good chance to reach the Euro finals and that is the dream.
‘Scotland know better than me who to look out for. If I tell you only one name — you have Tadic.
‘He played great last year with Ajax. He is a great player and Serbia have so many.
‘Mitrovic has scored so many goals, so we have goals, but what is important is that every player with talent shows how good they are.’
After Costa Rica, Milutinovic went on to lead the United States, Nigeria and China to the World Cup.
Asked who he expects to see at next summer’s Euros, he hesitates before saying: ‘My heart says Serbia, but good luck to Scotland.
‘They need to play very, very well to win in the stadium of Red Star.
‘Over one game, anything is possible. But the Serbian people believe they did a great job winning in Norway and this is a chance…’
Helping Scotland’s cause is the lack of supporters in the stadium. Normally a game in Serbia would be a hostile and intimidating affair.
‘It’s a big help for Scotland to play one game without the public,’ agrees Milutinovic. ‘When there are supporters the atmosphere can change so much.
‘So the public is important but what’s much more important is that you need to have confidence for this game.’
Football Pass is a brand-new digital service for football fans in Scotland established to forge partnerships with charities that support children across food, education and health and well-being. Watch on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
IT’S 8,433 DAYS SINCE SCOTLAND REACHED A MAJOR FINALS…
Scotland will end a wait of 8,433 days since last celebrating qualification for a major tournament if they win in Belgrade tonight.
The last time the Scots reached a finals was the 1998 World Cup in France — and Craig Brown’s side made it through in the last game of their qualifiers with a 2-0 win against Latvia on October 11, 1997.
Since then, the Tartan Army will have waited 23 years, one month and one day for another qualification party should Steve Clarke’s side triumph this evening. That amounts to 12,143,520 minutes or 202,392 hours.
Scotland have since gone through TEN qualifying campaigns — and varying degrees of misery — since the night they beat the Latvians at Celtic Park. Here is that road to nowhere…
A draw pitting Scotland with the Czech Republic, Bosnia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Faroe Islands was not unfavourable.
But it started with a goalless draw in Vilnius, with narrow home wins over Estonia and the Faroes preceding a home defeat to the Czechs.
By the time they’d returned from Toftir with just a point and Prague with none, Scotland were playing for second place. Two wins against Bosnia, a draw in Estonia and a home victory against Lithuania secured that much.
The play-off against England was the epitome of glorious failure with a 1-0 win at Wembley just not enough to overturn a 2-0 loss at Hampden.
WORLD CUP 2002
Two goals up to ten-man Belgium after 27 minutes at Hampden in game four, Scotland were well on their way to South Korea and Japan.
But after being pegged back through Daniel Van Buyten’s goal in stoppage time, the campaign suddenly felt ill-fated.
Scotland took care of Latvia and San Marino and drew twice with group winners Croatia. But a defeat in Brussels compounded what had gone before and the play-offs went up in smoke.
It was the end of the Craig Brown era.
Now with Berti Vogts at the helm, Scotland’s opener in the Faroes was a fiasco as they were forced to come back from two goals down to claim a draw.
The return at Hampden was less problematic, as were two games with Iceland. But although Vogts’ side managed a spirited home draw with Germany, they lost in Dortmund and Kaunas — and needed Darren Fletcher’s first Scotland goal to reach the play-offs.
James McFadden’s goal against the Dutch at Hampden sent them off to Amsterdam believing but a 6-0 hiding was the stuff of nightmares.
WORLD CUP 2006
This one was pretty much over before it started. A goalless draw with Slovenia and a loss to Norway — both at home — arrived before a draw in Moldova, a result which spelled the end for Vogts’ time in charge.
Walter Smith lost his first game, in Italy, but there was an upturn in results with wins over Moldova, Norway, Slovenia and a home draw with the Italians.
But five points shipped to Belarus meant Norway took the play-off spot.
A tale of two managers and an extraordinary sense of injustice that still lingers. Drawn with Italy and France — the nations who had contested the last World Cup final — Scotland were up against it.
Yet when Gary Caldwell’s goal defeated the French at Hampden, a nation believed.
Even a loss in Ukraine and Smith returning to Rangers at the start of 2007 didn’t derail the campaign.
Alex McLeish masterminded an unforgettable victory in Paris, with James McFadden’s screamer completing the double over the French.
Alas, a loss in Georgia made the final match with Italy at Hampden decisive. The controversial foul against Alan Hutton which led to Christian Panucci breaking hearts in stoppage time is as hard to stomach now as then.
WORLD CUP 2010
With McLeish now at Birmingham City, George Burley was tasked with leading the nation to South Africa but the appointment would prove disastrous.
An opening defeat in Macedonia was compounded by just one point being taken from Norway and none from Holland. Beating Iceland twice and Macedonia at Hampden was academic.
Scotland finished behind both the Dutch and the Norwegians. Burley was shown the door.
Craig Levein’s arrival prompted a wave of fresh optimism that lasted as long as a goalless draw in Lithuania and a stoppage-time victory over Liechtenstein.
If back-to-back defeats against the Czechs and Spain had hopes hanging by a thread — the former coming in the infamous ‘no strikers’ game — a 2-2 draw with the Czechs at Hampden just about killed them off.
Dreams of a miracle were sustained by single-goal victories over Lithuania and Liechtenstein, but a 3-1 loss in the final match in Alicante confirmed another fruitless campaign.
WORLD CUP 2014
The wisdom in granting Levein another campaign was up for question after home draws with Serbia and Macedonia. Defeats in Wales and Belgium saw the SFA pull the trigger.
Gordon Strachan didn’t witness much of a bounce with a home loss to Wales and a defeat in Serbia.
His side at least showed signs of improvement thereafter, beating Croatia twice, winning in Macedonia and losing only to the Belgians.
A campaign that was not without its highs ended in crushing disappointment.
Strachan’s men took much from a narrow opening defeat to Germany in Dortmund, would draw in Poland, memorably defeat the Republic of Ireland at Celtic Park and bounce back to take a point in Dublin. But a loss in Georgia was crippling and cranked up the heat for the game with the Germans at Hampden. Scotland were good but still lost, with a draw against the Poles rendering the win in Gibraltar largely irrelevant as they finished fourth.
WORLD CUP 2018
Strachan’s second full campaign was a rollercoaster ride. A trouncing of Malta came before an alarming slump encompassing a home draw with Lithuania and heavy losses away to Slovakia and England. Then came the bounce back. Victory over Slovenia preceded an extraordinary 2-2 draw with England then victories over Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia.
Needing a win in Slovenia to make the play-offs, Scotland led, trailed, then drew level, but could not get the winner which would have pipped the Slovaks to second spot. Strachan was sacked, with McLeish hired for a second spell.