FORMER Scotland manager, Alex McLeish, has suggested that his side were cheated out of a place at the 2008 European Championships.
Nearly ten years on from a last-minute defeat to Italy, McLeish has revealed that he took a phone call prior to the crucial match telling him that a Scottish victory would not be favoured by European football’s governing bodies.
The Scots Euro 2008 dream was cruelly ended when the Italians scored from a questionable stoppage-time free-kick.
Now McLeish, who himself won 77 caps for his country, has revealed that an Italian journalist told him Uefa would make sure the world champions qualified instead of his team.
The former Rangers boss had initially dismissed the claims but his suspicions grew during the match at Hampden in 2007 when a number of decisions favoured the visiting Italian side.
The most contentious decision made by Spanish referee, Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez, was to award a free-kick to Italy in the final moments of the match, despite Scottish full-back, Alan Hutton, appearing to be the one who was fouled.
The Italians headed home from the free-kick to crush Scottish dreams and leave their passionate fans to watch yet another major tournament from home.
In a BBC documentary to be aired tonight, McLeish says the defeat still irks him and still has his suspicions about the refereeing performance.
He said: “In the midweek before the game, I got a call from an Italian journalist. She said,
‘Do you really think that Uefa will allow France and Italy not to qualify?’.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute. This is a bit controversial. We don’t say things like that in Scotland.’
She said, ‘Listen Mr McLeish, the whole of Italy is talking about this. If there is a 50-50, the referee will favour the Italians and the French.’”
McLeish said the suspicion around the defeat made it even harder to take. He continued: “It was terrible because I was so convinced about it.
“That’s why the disappointment was absolutely devastating.”
The 57-year-old’s feelings were echoed by his players. Speaking after the match, talisman, James McFadden said: “I know you are not supposed to say these things but we were robbed by the referee.
“There have been some dodgy decisions given against us or not gone our way. I think it goes to prove that we were not wanted at the big championships.
“People didn’t want us to qualify and they got what they wanted.”
In recent years, football has been rocked by a series of scandals involving corruption, fraud and money laundering which has struck right at the top of the international game.
14 Fifa executives and officials were arrested in May after investigations over a 24 year period.
In December last year, both Uefa president, Michel Platini and Fifa president, Sepp Blatter were given eight year bans from football following an ethics investigation.
A Uefa spokesman strongly denied allegations of any biased refereeing: “Mistakes may have been made during the game but decisions did go against each team.
“Mr Mejuto Gonzalez is a highly ranked referee and one of the best in the world.”
Mr Mejuto Gonzalez was challenged about his performance two years after the match but insisted: “I have nothing against Scottish football.”
‘Scotland’s Game’ will be shown tonight on BBC One Scotland at 9pm.