AFTER qualification for Euro 2017 and World Cup 2019, the Scotland Women’s National Team was on the rise and capturing the hearts of the nation. We all felt for them that night at the Parc des Princes when they let a three-goal lead slip against Argentina, which led to their World Cup exit in controversial circumstances with that last minute retaken penalty.
Going into their Euro 2021, now delayed to 2022, qualifying campaign, there was hope that Shelley Kerr’s side could go onto achieve something that their male counterparts have never achieved and reach a third consecutive major finals. Three games in, all was going well with an 8-0 thumping of Cyprus and convincing wins over Albania home and away.
Unfortunately, that hope evaporated over three crucial games against their main rivals for qualification. Away defeats to Finland, managed by Kerr’s predecessor Anna Signeul, and Portugal put the Scots on the back foot going into the visit of the Finns to Easter Road. Despite dominating from the first minute, Scotland lost a crazy last minute goal to give Finland another victory and killed off the Scots hopes of reaching the Finals, which are being held in England.
There was a recurring theme in each of the defeats, other than going down by the same 1-0 score line. Scotland dominated the opposition and created numerous opportunities to score, and ultimately win all three matches, but poor finishing and questionable decision making in the final third let them down before conceding a sloppy goal in each game. This will no doubt be the thing that infuriates Shelley Kerr the most, knowing that her side have been on the front foot in each game, but failed to press home their territorial advantage.
Many will feel that Scotland were unlucky not to take anything from each of the three games. However, when the same thing is happening in each game, and they’re not taking the opportunities that come their way, then it will come back to haunt you – and that’s what has happened as Finland twice and Portugal have punished the Scots for it. The bottom line is, Scotland failed to score a single goal in each of the three games, that is not down to bad luck, that is down to poor decision making in the final third.
Last nights game against the Finns at Easter Road summed up the Scots form in microcosm. Lisa Evans choosing an attempted cutback to players who were marked when she had a clear sight on goal, Martha Thomas heading over when the goal was at her mercy, Erin Cuthbert attempting to shoot with too many defenders around her, and Caroline Weir missing an open goal, though the ball was slightly behind her. Then deep into injury time, Finland substitute Amanda Rantanen broke away clear on goal, her shot was saved by Lee Alexander’s leg but ricocheted off her face and trickled into the net to seal Scotland’s fate. It was a typically Scottish way to lose the game and miss out on a place at the Euros!
What makes our exit more disappointing is that this group of players are capable of better than what they produced over the last three games. This is a group who got got the Women’s National Team to their first European Championships and World Cup during the last four years, this is a group who, largely, play at the highest level in Women’s football, this is a group who put Scotland on the map in Women’s football. They were more than capable of beating Finland and Portugal who, with no disrespect, are not elite international sides in Women’s football, and the fact we were on the front foot is evidence that we should’ve done so.
However, what the Finns and Portuguese both done was find a way to punish Scotland, and why at least one of them will be going to England and the other will, at worst, go into the playoffs. Not qualifying for a European Championships on the turf of the Auld Enemy will hurt Shelley Kerr and her girls, and that was shown at the end of the game last night with a few players in tears knowing their fate was sealed.
Last nights defeat hurt as much as any men’s one that cost us a place at a major finals, and there have been plenty of them over the last 22 years, and it is gutting that the Women are not going to join their male counterparts at their delayed European Championships. It is a particularly frustrating one as this group should’ve been good enough to make a historic third consecutive major finals with the quality at their disposal, and the players themselves will know that a golden opportunity has passed them by.
Thoughts will now turn to the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign for the Finals in Australia and New Zealand. Will Shelley Kerr remain in charge to attempt to take Scotland to a second consecutive World Cup? How many of the current crop will move on from international football in the wake of this Euro’s failure?
Whatever happens, whoever is in charge, the hope is that missing out on the delayed Euro 2021 Finals is a mere blip in this journey for the Scotland Women’s National Team, who have made significant strides over the past ten years. The hope will also be that they learn how to take their opportunities in the final third when they get them, in order to get over these defeats to Portugal and Finland very quickly and progress to the World Cup in two and a half years time.