When Scotland were drawn in the same group as England for the Women’s World Cup next year, manager Shelley Kerr must have thought ‘typical’. Her team qualified for only their second ever major competition with a dramatic win over Albania in September. Shortly after it was announced the Scottish Government would provide £80,000 of funding to allow the squad to be full-time from January to the tournament’s start date in June.
Scotland’s reward? A group of death with their rivals, former World Champions Japan and Argentina.
Scotland met England two years ago in the group stages of the 2017 European Championships where the more experienced Lionesses ran out 5-0 winners. The Scots did almost make it to the knockout stages, however, but fell just one goal short of progressing. After a successful reign as manager, Anna Signeul bowed out at the end of the tournament allowing Kerr to take up the challenge of qualifying for next year’s World Cup and making a promising young side into a force to be reckoned with. Having said that, the qualification process for 2019 was far from straightforward. At one point, it looked like Scotland would miss out on next year’s tournament, needing a win from their final game and a draw between Poland and Switzerland. Luckily for Kerr, that’s exactly what happened and the Scots booked their place in France, albeit at the last minute.
Scotland have improved defensively since Kerr took charge and they seem to have a better game management. A narrow defeat to World Champions USA in a friendly in November showed just how far this side has come since that 5-0 defeat to England two years ago.
Importantly, Scotland’s best and most influential player, Kim Little, is expected to be fit to take part in her first ever World Cup. The three-time Women’s Player of the Year was cruelly ruled out of Euro 2017 after rupturing her cruciate ligament and the Scots missed her touch of class. The play-maker has been instrumental in both Scotland’s successful qualifying campaigns and if there’s one person who deserves a chance to play on the biggest stage then it’s most definitely Little.
While Little is the player most will have their eye on in the Scottish team, another name who broke onto the national scene two years ago was 20-year-old Erin Cuthbert. Chelsea’s attacking-midfielder made an impression with her substitute appearances during the Euros and is now a regular both at club and international level. Similar to England’s Fran Kirby, Cuthbert is skilful and possess what Kerr has described as a raw talent that can win you games. A recent nut-meg in a WSL match has brought comparisons to the likes of Messi and the confidence the Scot displays is impressive for a player so young. Little may be Scotland’s Luka Modrić but Cuthbert can be the Kylian Mbappé of the Women’s tournament.
Further names to look out for include Manchester City duo Jen Beattie and Caroline Weir. Defender Beattie is the daughter of former Scotland and British Lions Rugby Union player, John Beattie, and her sister also plays international rugby for her country. Like Little, Beattie missed the Euro’s through injury and Scotland’s defence was noticeably weaker without her leadership. Attacking-midfielder Weir made history when she scored Scotland’s first and only goal at a major tournament in 2017. The 23-year-old joined Manchester City in the Summer and already has four goals in ten games. Like Cuthbert, Weir has the potential to be a match-winner and is certainly a player that can cause some of the bigger teams problems.
The Scots will fancy their chances against the unknown quantity of Argentina but face tougher tests against England and Japan in their first two games. You feel they will need at least a point to carry into that final group match, however, as dark horses and with arguably less pressure on their shoulders, Kerr and her side may fancy their chances at taking more. With their FIFA World Ranking slipping to eighth, Japan are not the team they were nine or even four years ago and Scotland will feel they can give the 2010 winners a good test. Equally, Scotland will want revenge on England for their 5-0 thrashing in Holland and will take courage from England’s narrow victories against Wales during qualifying. If Little, Cuthbert, Weir and Beattie can enter the 2019 tournament fully fit and confident, there is every chance Scotland can go from underdogs to serious contenders.