Scotland bowed out of the Women’s U19 European Championships on Monday night after a 4-0 defeat to Netherlands as the Dutch eased their way into the final four along with Spain, Germany and France. It was a third defeat from three games but to dwell on that would be to show a lack of understanding in relation to the quality of opposition Pauline Hamill’s squad have faced over the last week. This was a massive learning opportunity and putting the public bravado aside that was emanating from the squad prior to the tournament, internally realistic expectations would have been set that a good showing and perhaps a shock result were the most likely reward.
With that said here at Leading the Line we thought we would share our five main take aways from the games against France, Norway and the Netherlands as Scotland’s women continue to look to build on recent international successes.
Jenna Clark’s continued development is a positive
You would expect any focus on a defence that conceded 10 goals in three games to be mainly negative but it was a tournament where Glasgow City centre back Jenna Clark would more than hold her own. She was an obvious choice to start with her sheer presence a stand out quality especially against the increased physicality of the Norwegians and Dutch. The 17-year-old has been a regular for the 12-in-a-row SWPL champions and there is a good reason to see why. She covers the ground well and for such a young player her decision making in the tackle is perhaps one of her most well rounded attributes. She still has to grow into the role of defensive leader but that is something that should come with time especially when you consider the amount of experience that surrounds her when playing club football.
What is Michaela McAlonie’s best position?
The SWPL Player of the Month for April has been one of the stand out performers for a Spartans side that has struggled for consistency this season. Throughout this tournament she was deployed at centre back but for parts of the domestic campaign she has been deployed in midfield by her coach at the Edinburgh club, Debbi McCulloch. For Scotland she added a vocal presence to the back four and what she might lack in size as a centre back she compensates with her athleticism and her willingness to take a moment to think before playing the ball forward.
However it was striking, particularly against the Dutch, how much bigger the attackers she was facing were and there were times where she was caught out with the opposition taking advantage. Scotland flitted between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 throughout the tournament and whilst the work of captain Amy Muir and Hamilton Academical’s Kirstie McIntosh at the base of midfield was always industrious it did take away from some of the attacking impetus they have become well known for bringing to their club sides. A move up the field for McAlonie, with perhaps Glasgow City’s Carly Girasoli coming in to form a club partnership in the centre of the defence, could have provided Pauline Hamill with more attacking options later in the game. McAlonie is still only 17 and so there is no rush to pigeon hole her but I suspect that if she is to push on to the next level a permanent move further forward may prove to be a shrewd one.
Muir and Napier will be missed
Two of Scotland’s standout performers were the aforementioned Muir and her Hibernian team mate Jamie-Lee Napier both noticeable not only for their energy, but their presence on the pitch, seeming far more comfortable in demanding the ball than those around them. They may not have got to demonstrate their attacking prowess as much as anyone would have wanted but both are highly regarded talents and it is easy to see why. Neither though will be available for selection in October as they continue their development.
The squad selected for this tournament was young, and so will have the opportunity to grow as a group and new names may emerge but for now there is no doubting the massive hole the pair will leave in the side.
We need to keep moving to not fall behind
This was a point Pauline Hamill stressed on more than one occasion during post match conversations. As discussed when previewing the tournament 90% of the squad were home-based. Five of those players playing outside Scotland’s top tier including goalkeeper Sophie Allison who currently plays in the third tier for the Glasgow City Development Squad. Whilst the connection to the domestic game can be seen as a positive through the right lens it does mean that almost all of the squad are still essentially amateur.
Compare that with the other nations competing, almost all of whom, took part in extensive training camps coming into the tournament and with squads including players already playing professionally at some of Europe’s biggest sides then it is a stark reminder that, for Scotland to maintain their current rich of qualification form in the years to come, that we don’t stop and keep on pushing forward.
Fans are engaged
Whilst I remain sceptical that the wave of support that washed over the national side in France this summer will translate to the returning domestic scene next month I was pleasantly surprised by the numbers that turned out to support Scotland over the course of the three games. A combined attendance of over 3,000 for a series of women’s youth internationals in Scotland is near unheard of and for most of the squad crowds of this size are a first time occurrence and are another important part of the development process. Of course the crowds have been supplemented by pockets of travelling supporters, with the colourful Dutch and noisy Norwegians deserving a special mention, but it was heartening to see that at a national level at least the enthusiasm is there.
The SFA have set themselves an ambitious target with the decision to move the senior sides first home international post France – a Euro 2021 qualifier against Cyprus – to Easter Road, a venue that is double the capacity of the women’s side traditional home of St. Mirren Park and one that they had yet to sell out. A move to spread the game across the country should be given a chance to flourish though and it will be interesting to see how those involved can capitalise on what has been a well supported U19 Championships.
The tournament continues without Scotland as the Netherlands take on Germany and Spain facing France in Thursday’s semi-finals before the final this Sunday at St. Mirren Park. If you’re at a loose end then why not go watch some of the best young female talent European football currently has to offer.
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