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Memories of facing Brazil are yet to fade for Gallacher

KEVIN GALLACHER will settle down to watch tonight's World Cup curtain-raiser and offer no resistance whatsoever as his mind drifts back to a sunny afternoon 16 years ago in the Parisien suburb of Saint Denis.

Kevin Gallacher tangles with Brazil captain Dunga
Kevin Gallacher tangles with Brazil captain Dunga

Every time he so much as glimpses the iconic yellow jersey of Brazil these days, he finds it impossible not to wallow in glorious recollections of being slap-bang | in the centre of the footballing universe and opening the greatest tournament of all against Brazil. Croatia have the opportunity to create similar memories of their own this evening.

Gallacher still watches the home video recorded by his family inside the Stade de France. He loves bringing his friends round on a big match-night to indulge in a little spot of storytelling. Just taking in the opening ceremony of a World Cup is enough to bring him out in goosebumps.

Sure, there is still a degree of hurt over the nature of Scotland's 2-1 loss in the first game of France '98. It was Gallacher, dunted in the back as he challenged for a Christian Dailly knock-on, who won the penalty from which John Collins cancelled out an early header from Cesar Sampaio. It was Gallacher who worked his way into space in the area during a real period of pressure in the second half, delivering a low cross which was kicked out of play by Cafu when Collins and Gordon Durie were in space inside the area and crying out for a cut-back.

Even after the most wicked of deflections off Tom Boyd had given the reigning world champions the lead with just over 15 minutes to go, it was Gallacher who helped provide Durie with a clear shot at goal late on. Yet the Rangers forward sent his crisp, low effort just a little too close to goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel.

Time has taken the sting out of all the what-might-have-beens, though. Gallacher is justifiably proud of the way Scotland played against a side packed with bona-fide superstars, a side which went all the way to the final only for their golden boy, Ronaldo, to suffer convulsions pre-match and send Brazil spiralling into chaos, confusion and a 3-0 defeat by the hosts.

Gallacher's memories now consist of his friends and family keeping him up-to-date with their adventures around France, the house his wife had rented becoming a drop-in centre for all manner of visitors and the sheer thrill of standing in the tunnel beside the likes of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos. He was able to realise all the dreams he ever had since watching David Narey score that goal in Spain in 1982.

"Whenever I watch Brazil, I just drift back into my experiences against them and I am sure it will be the same this time," said Gallacher. "I love watching the opening games and the opening ceremonies now. The hairs stand up on my arms and you do start reminiscing about the time you were part of that yourself.

"My mates and I often have a little World Cup party and questions do get thrown at you about what it was like. When it was first announced that we would be playing in the opening game against Brazil, the reaction was just: 'Wow!' I had watched Scotland playing against Brazil as a kid in the World Cup and remember the famous Davie Narey 'toepoke'.

"You don't realise just how special that opening game is until the lead-up, though, when every country on the planet is talking about it. We had a squad full of experience, but I can't deny there were nerves about being involved in such a massive fixture. Even going down the tunnel before the match and looking across to see those gold jerseys was special. I was thinking about how I'd watched so many of their players on the telly and I was in awe of them a little."

Gallacher, then with Blackburn Rovers, is thankful he took his entire family to France to enjoy the tournament with him. Players often fail to appreciate what comes their way during their careers, but, aged 31 at the time, the forward made his big moment a shared experience that still colours his life to this day.

"I rented a chateau in the Dordogne area and had the family over there for 10 to 12 days, with all sorts of folk coming and going on a daily basis," he said. "They were all filling me in on their experiences and took videos of everything they were doing. It gave me a different flavour of what was going on away from the camp."

Gallacher would, however, caution Brazil and Croatia's current squads that playing a game immediately after the opening ceremony can bring its own particular headaches.

"We had heard the day before the Brazil game that we might not be allowed to do a warm-up on the park because of it," he recalled. "It was the downside of playing in the first game of the tournament. We deserved something from that match and were certainly as good as Brazil. We matched the champions and lost to a freak own goal."

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