WITH the domestic season over, attentions turn to the International scene this week as Steve Clarke takes charge of his first two matches as Scotland Manager against Cyprus and Belgium.
However, the crucial Euro 2020 double header is likely to be overshadowed by their female counterparts, who are taking part in their first ever World Cup in France.
Two years on from participating in their first ever International tournament at the European Championships in Holland, Shelly Kerr, who succeeded Anna Signeul after those Finals, successfully guided Scotland to seven wins from eight group games to pip Switzerland to automatic qualification in September.
It’s another indication of how far the women’s game has come in this country, and a reward of the work that’s been put in behind the scenes to develop the game to a new level where our National Team is Qualifying for Major Finals. A combination of the 12 year reign of Signeul to put foundations in place for a good National Team, and the authorities in revamping the Scottish Football Women’s League to help produce better players to aid the fortunes of the National side.
Whilst domestically Glasgow City have been the dominant side with a haul of 12 League titles in a row, our clubs fortunes on the continent have been such an improvement that we now two representatives in the Women’s Champions League, thanks to a coefficient ranking of eleventh. How our men’s club sides would love to have that luxury these days instead of slogging it out over four Qualifying rounds to reach the group stages.
Of course, the aim for individual players is to move onto the next level and the Scotland squad is packed with players plying their trade elsewhere. Out of the 23 player squad list, only seven play in Scotland with 12 at clubs south of the border, three in mainland Europe and Captain Rachel Corsie starring in the National Women’s Soccer League, arguably the most prestigious in the Women’s game.
It’s a healthy mix of players used to testing themselves against some of the best players of their profession and Kerr will be counting on those experiences when it comes to the main event, especially the opener against England on Sunday!
Scotland are still smarting from a 6-0 humiliation by the Auld Enemy in their first game at the Euro’s two years ago and they will be hoping that valuable lessons have been learned ahead of the match in Nice. The next match is expected to be just as tough against Japan, Winners in 2011 and beaten finalists in 2015, in Rennes before finishing off against Argentina at the Parc des Princes.
With this being a 24 team World Cup, there is the possibility that Scotland could qualify as one of the four best third placed sides should they defeat the Argentines, who are ranked 17 places below the Scots in the World Rankings. However, that’s not always a guarantee, as the men’s squad of Italia ’90 will testify, so they may require to overcome the bigger hurdles in England and Japan. England’s recent shock defeat by New Zealand in their final warm up game shows that they are not invincible and Scotland have shown considerable improvements since that hammering at the Euro’s, so you never know what can happen on the day.
It’s taken a long time for the Women’s game to start being taken seriously by critics in this country, with failure to make an impact on the world stage barely getting any media attention. Even qualification for their first European Championships didn’t get anywhere near the coverage it merited for a landmark achievement.
Reaching their first World Cup has raised the profile of the Women’s game to a new level, leading to the Government funding to allow the team to train full time ahead of the Finals. A crowd of 18,555, smashing the previous record for a Women’s game in Scotland, attended the final warm up match against Jamaica at Hampden, further emphasising the growth and interest in the Women’s game up here.
The fact that new Men’s National Team Manager Steve Clarke spoke about emulating the Women counterparts when he took the job speaks volumes for where each side is at right now – the Women are at the peak of their game whilst the men have a lot of catching up to do in order to reach a major Finals again.
Shelly Kerr leads her ladies to France 21 years since the men’s side last graced the greatest stage in world football, and will be hoping that they can do something that the opposite sex have failed to do – reach the knockout stages of a major Finals. Given the progress in the Women’s game in Scotland, and the high levels that the majority of the squad are playing at in club football, there is every chance that this Scotland side can do more than just make up the numbers at this years Women’s World Cup.