STEVEN PRESSLEY insists the air of Dutch dissent was enough to convince Scotland they could pull off an unthinkable triumph in their last Hampden playoff.
Elvis was in the heart of defence alongside Lee Wilkie when a star-studded Holland side arrived in Glasgow in November 2003, boasting the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Edgar Davids in an admirable armoury.
Dick Advocaat’s charges were expected to sweep to victory in the first leg before completing the job in Amsterdam to book their place at Euro 2004.
Instead, Berti Vogts’ underdogs turned in a defensively heroic display and nicked a 1-0 triumph courtesy of a James McFadden strike.
It was the sort of gallant showing at an electric Hampden that, in happier circumstances, would have been just the ticket in the clash against Israel that was due to take place on Thursday.
Scotland were, of course, brought crashing down to earth in the second leg at the Amsterdam ArenA, succumbing to a 6-0 hammering – nevertheless Pressley still has fond memories of that unforgettable afternoon in Mount Florida.
“There was a degree of unrest in the Holland camp at that time and ill-feeling from their own country towards the players,” recalled the former Celtic and Hearts star. “There was a sense that they had a squad of too many opinions, too many individuals.
“We definitely had a feeling that we could get a result and, looking at other games, we had performed exceptionally well against Germany at home and knew we were more than capable of pulling out a win.
“When you look back at the quality and experience of player they had in their team, the scale of that achievement really hits home. As a collective, we restricted them to very few opportunities. It was a real team effort against some of the best players in the world.
“I remember Berti [Vogt] assigned Christian Dailly to play directly against [Patrick] Kluivert, who was dropping deep, and that starved Ruud van Nistelrooy of ammunition. Berti produced a really good tactical plan.
“We dropped deep, didn’t let them in behind and took our moment.”
With Pressley, Wilkie and Dailly successfully shackling Van Nistelrooy, Kluivert and Marc Overmars – belying what seemed an almighty mis-match – all that was left was for Scotland to find a hero at the other end.
Pressley was not surprised to see Everton youngster McFadden pop up following a slick exchange with Darren Fletcher, recalling how Vogts’ ‘cheeky boy’ was always the man for the big occasion.
“It’s funny, my son was recently watching Scotland’s [1-0] win over France at Hampden on YouTube and was asking me just how good James was,” smiled Pressley. “My answer was: ‘He was absolutely terrific’.
“I always hated playing against James McFadden. He could dribble, would attack you, was very direct and could create something from nothing. A nightmare.
“His goal against Holland was a brilliantly worked corner and that level of invention is just typical of James. He was a wonderful player for Scotland over the period and tended to be the man getting fans off their seats.
“James was one of those guys who would pull out big performances on the biggest stages and, given he was so young, to upstage some of his opponents that day spoke volumes for his ability.”
The Hampden roar when McFadden rippled the net was deafening, while the atmosphere reached fever pitch when the Netherlands had two late efforts cleared off the line.
Pressley is the first to state that he is no fan of the national stadium but, on certain occasions, he acknowledges that there is magic in the air.
And when the Israel tie is ultimately played, he reckons it will be one of those days.
Pressley added: “I’m not a huge supporter of Hampden and I don’t think it’s a particularly good stadium for generating an atmosphere in the majority of matches.
“However, on that particular day, with the significance of the game and with the stadium full, it was amazing. There is something special in air at Hampden when the occasion is right.
“I’m pretty certain the Israel tie would have been that and, when it does happen, I’m sure it still will be.”