Scotland v Brazil. The opening game of the World Cup in France in 1998. It feels like yesterday. I remember leaving the team hotel that day and passing through all the little French villages as we made our way into Paris. As we got closer and closer we started to spot the Tartan Army mixing with all the yellow-shirted Brazilians. That’s when the excitement really started to build.
The players all had kilts on too, which was the first time we had done that. The Brazilians were looking at us and you could see them thinking: ‘Who the hell are we up against here?’.
That was a great Brazilian side. Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldo. No one gave us a chance, but we were well-organised and had determination. We believed we could get a result. We had a fantastic group, then. We had been together through the years and there had always been a relaxed feeling in the camp.
My moment came when we we awarded a penalty in the 37th minute. There was a bit of a delay between the penalty award and me hitting it because the Brazilians were arguing with the referee. People have always said to me since: ‘Did you feel calm?’. The night before the game I had actually dreamt about getting a penalty and where exactly I was going to hit it. It was quite surreal, but I knew.
I just had to stay focused and at the time you don’t think about how much pressure is involved. It was only after the game, when I was sitting on the bus, that I thought: ‘If I’d missed that I’d be remembered for it for the rest of my life’.
I’ve seen the picture taken just after I’ve struck the ball and I’ve started to smile. As a footballer, you know when the ball is halfway to the net whether it is in or not. You can see the joy and relief on my face at that moment. I ran over to the corner to celebrate because that was where all my family were.
People have mentioned to me over the years about the wink I gave the camera before the game at the national anthem. My two girls were toddlers then and their granny was looking after them back in Monaco. I had spoken to them on the phone the night before and told them that I would give them a wink. People thought it was me showing off, but the wink was for my two little princesses! They were jumping about the room back in Monaco after I did it! A lot of people have actually copied me over the years.
That was the cherished moment of my career, not so much scoring the penalty but the whole occasion – walking out, hearing the national anthem. It was the equivalent of our World Cup final. There’s always something magical about the yellow shirts of the Brazilians and there was the fact that it was the opening game of the tournament. It doesn’t get any better than that.