Where Has Scotland’s Self Belief Gone In This Women’s World Cup?
June 18, 2019
Scotland, as a country, is desperate for a winning team. This went some way to explaining why over 18,000 fans turned up to Hampden Park to wave off Shelley Kerr’s Scotland team ahead of this summer’s Women’s World Cup. This was a record crowd for a women’s football match in Scotland and it was just a tournament warm up fixture.
Indeed, Scotland has fallen so profoundly out of love with its men’s team that Kerr’s side filled a national void at just the right time. They aren’t just a winning team, but a team that plays a brand of attacking, dynamic football that has become alien to the long suffering Tartan Army over the past two decades or so.
But perhaps most refreshing about Scotland in the build up to the Women’s World Cup was their sense of self belief. This went against the grain of the national sporting psyche and proved that with the power of positive thinking Scottish footballers, and athletes by extension, could scale the heights of the sporting world.
Scotland picked up impressive results against the United States, Brazil and Jamaica in the weeks prior to the tournament. There was even some suggestions that Scotland could even be outsiders to win the whole thing. All of a sudden, simply qualifying for their first ever Women’s World Cup wasn’t enough. The knockout rounds were the aim.
And they are still the aim with Kerr’s team still in contention for a quarter final place. Scotland’s trademark self belief seems to have vanished though, illustrated by their meek performances in their opening two group games against England and Japan. If they are to make the final eight, confidence must return to their play.
Of course, Scotland were handed an exceptionally tough draw. England are fourth favourites for the tournament at 9/1 with Unibet having finished third back in 2015 while Japan are former Women’s World Cup winners themselves, lifting the trophy as recently as 2011. They are between cycles, but remain one of the best teams in the game.
Nonetheless, Kerr was left disappointed by both performances mainly because they were nearly identical. Against both England and Japan, Scotland started poorly and were somewhat fortunate to be only two goals down by half time, even if they were the victims of harsh VAR penalty kick calls.
It was only in the second half once Kerr had got a grip of her players in the dressing room that Scotland started to play their natural game. In both matches, they halved the deficit, but left it too late to mount any meaningful comeback. It was uncanny just how similar both matches and their patterns were to one another.
Scotland must break this cycle against Argentina on Wednesday. The format of the competition means that Kerr’s team can still qualify for the knockout rounds by finishing third in the group, but a strong and consistent performance is needed. They must show the self belief that had been building before leaving for France.
“It doesn’t get any better or any bigger a chance to have this last game with everything at stake,” Kerr said ahead of the final group game. “We’re not ready to go home. The players feel that they haven’t performed maybe to their best. To get an opportunity to do that on the world stage, try and get a victory – that’s certainly what we’re going to set out to do and, if we can achieve that, it would be phenomenal for us as a nation.”
Kerr has been questioned as a tactician over the past week, but her primary tack as Scotland manager ahead of this pivotal final group game is to restore the swagger her team had picked up before the Women’s World Cup. If she can do that Scotland should have the quality through the likes of Kim Little and Erin Cuthbert to see off a spirited, yet limited Argentina outfit.
Scotland have already made history by making it this far and their performances and results so far have been far from disgraceful. But this team was supposed to be different from Scotland teams of the past. A swaggering, confident win over Argentina would really make that distinction clear.
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Author: Graham Ruthven
Graham Ruthven is a football writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He was written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, Four Four Two, The Scotsman and others. He is also a football shirt aficionado and still maintains to this day that Dennis Bergkamp didn’t mean it