LAST week, the Scotland men’s side took a step towards qualification for next years delayed European Championship Finals, now it’s the turn of the women’s team to do likewise.
Shelley Kerr’s side resume their Euro 2021, delayed to 2022, qualifying campaign with a double header at home to Albania and away to Finland. Having won their opening two games with thumping wins over Cyprus and the Albanians, scoring 13 goals without reply, the Scots are off to a flyer in their bid to reach a third consecutive major finals, a feat the men’s side haven’t achieved.
With the Finals being in England, the incentive becomes greater for the Scots, and Kerr will be keen to carry on the momentum from both the start to Group E and the Pinatar Cup success in March. In the four team tournament held in Spain, Scotland won three consecutive games against Ukraine, Iceland and Northern Ireland to win the competition, which was played shortly before football was postponed globally due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
For the players and manager, it’ll be good for them all to get together again after a seven month absence, and they’ll be eager to pick up where they left off as they get ready to play their first qualifier since last November. That wait should’ve ended last month but the qualifiers in Cyprus and at home to Portugal were both postponed due to the increase in positive Covid cases across the continent.
Dealing with the potential positive cases in her squad will be Kerr’s biggest challenge across these two fixtures, being played on Friday and the following Tuesday respectively. She’ll have seen that her male compatriot, Steve Clarke, had such issues having lost three players to positive testing and self isolating, plus three others through injury. With so many players coming out of their club bubble into the international set up, the risk of spreading infection is greater and she will just have to hope that any impact is minimal.
In naming a 25 woman squad, Kerr will, hopefully, have enough resources to call upon in the event of disruption caused by Covid testing. What stands out in her squad is that 15 of her girls, plus two on loan from American clubs, all ply their trade in England. This emphasises the progress of the Women’s National Team by having these girls all playing in one of the top leagues in Europe, which in turn is improving the quality of players within the squad, and seeing more Scots move down south has played a big part in the rise of our National side.
That’s not to say that the domestic game up here hasn’t made progress, in fact that could not be further from the truth. The rise in the women’s game in Scotland has improved tenfold, so much so that Glasgow City have progressed to the Champions League Quarter Finals on two occasions, including last season. Although they ultimately went down to eventual finalists Wolfsburg in comprehensive fashion, the three City players within the squad will have learned so much from the experience to bring onto the International scene.
Unfortunately, the Glasgow City players, and the other five domestic based players in the squad, will only have had one league game behind them by the time this international double header comes around, the first since the end of February. The English based players have at least had four games under their belt so far so their sharpness will be vital going into the two games.
Friday’s match against Albania at Tynecastle, which of course will be played in front of no supporters due to Government restrictions, should be relatively straightforward given the resounding 5-0 win in Elbasan eleven months ago. Overall, Albania have shipped 17 goals in five qualifiers with their only win coming against bottom side Cyprus. Anything other than a comfortable Scotland win will be seen as a disappointment.
The trip to Finland four days later represents a more difficult proposition. They currently lead the section with ten points from four games, their only draw coming away to fellow qualification contenders Portugal, and will fancy their chances of extending their unbeaten run to cement that position.
Shelley Kerr won’t be surprised by the Finns resurgence given that they are managed by her predecessor Anna Signeul. During her 12 years in Scotland from 2005 until 2017, Signeul transformed the women’s game in our country and gradually produced a squad that was able to qualify for its first ever major tournament when we reached the European Championship Finals in the Netherlands three years ago. Now she is looking to bring Finland back to the Euros having missed out on Euro 2017 and will be eager to put the brakes on the progress being made under her successor to keep the Finns in pole position in Group E.
With only the top side guaranteed to qualify, alongside the best three runners up across the nine sections, the importance of picking up three points in Helsinki are spelled out for Scotland. The progress of the women’s National Team over the last ten years has been remarkable and fans have every reason to be optimistic that Shelley Kerr’s side can keep that momentum going. The heartache of last years World Cup exit has galvanised the squad and bouncing back with five straight victories in the qualifiers and Pinatar Cup will have done wonders for this squad. Getting maximum points from the double header against Albania and Finland will take us one step closer to the Finals in England.
The road to Euro 2021, being played in 2022, is clear for the Scots, let’s hope that there isn’t too much disruption to the squad over this coming week and that a significant step can be taken to reach a historic third consecutive major finals.