By Chris Marshall // @mershdoes
These last two qualifiers may not save us from spending next summer sat at home but two victories from the upcoming games against Cyprus and Portugal will go a long way towards starting the healing process.
With Portugal travelling to Finland later on in the day, Scotland will be hoping for a first win in four against bottom placed Cyprus. The Cypriots may still be finding their way on the pitch, although performances have been improving, off the pitch they were this week awarded the first ever FIFPRO Player Voice Award as a result of the squad’s work in highlighting inequalities of treatment when compared with their male counterparts from a Cypriot FA that made numerous efforts to forcibly silence them. It’s still too easy to forget that in women’s football the battles off the field sometimes supersede what happens on it but with the Cypriot government engaged player focus can for now return to the pitch, but what differences if any can Scotland expect from the side they defeated so comfortably at Easter Road eighteen months ago.
The Cypriots, like Scotland, have played six of their qualifiers possessing a 100% losing record having conceded 22 and scored none but recent performances have suggested that it is a squad learning quickly. In their three games since qualification resumed they have lost twice to Portugal and once to nearest rivals Albania but have competed well in each of those encounters. In October it took a quick bit of set piece thinking and a rasping effort from Claudio Neto for Portugal to break down early Cypriot resolve before two bookings inside four first half minutes for Maria Ioannou made their task that much harder as Diana Silva and an injury time header from substitute Ana Capata sealed a 3-0 win for the visitors.
In the return leg four days later in Estoril it was only a 61st minute own goal from Chara Charalambous that made the difference for the hosts with the young attacker only able to divert a low cross from Portugal captain Neto into Eleni Ttakka’s near corner with the closest the Portuguese attack having coming to a breakthrough prior was via two first half efforts from Neto (again) and Andreia Jacinto, each smacking off a different one of Ttakka’s posts.
In their last outing away to Albania the scoreline was more comprehensive although the performance perhaps the most heartening as despite going down 4-0 to their Balkan hosts, with Sauda Jashari’s well worked opener (at time below) from range the pick of the bunch for the Albanians, three of the four goals came from the 80th minute forward with rivals now having to work considerably harder than Scotland did during that 8-0 win in August to break down the Cypriot defences.
As you would expect from a team that sit bottom of the table and who are competing in their first qualifying campaign the Cypriots are still very much a work in progress on the international stage. That said there have been improvements. In defence, there is now a semblance of shape compared with the side that had seemingly completely abandoned the idea of having one at Easter Road and the Scottish attack will be met with two fairly uniform banks of four when looking to break the deadlock in Larnaca.
They have also developed a quick start. In their home qualifier against Portugal their press led by Krystyna Freda and Antri Violari saw quick turnover of the ball inside 45 seconds (at time above) and with more composure in the final third they should have created a better opportunity than the tame effort they eventually did. From kick off during their 4-0 defeat to Albania a kick-chase approach from midfield immediately had them deep inside Albanian territory leading to a long range effort from Christiana Solomou going over the bar (at time below). Scotland will have to be switched on early as any lapse could see the Cypriots echo the efforts of San Marinese striker Davide Gualtieri against England all those years ago by giving the minnows a shock lead.
Having not scored in six games a goal, perhaps more than victory, will be on the minds of the Cypriot squad and in that regard things have changed since the last time the two sides have met with naturalised American and one time Glasgow City player Krystyna Freda now leading the line. Having made her debut against Portugal in October the player, who regularly battles Albania’s Megi Doci for the title of top goalscorer in the world given their domestic proficiency, has found chances few and far between but will be spurred by the notion of getting one over former City teammate Lee Alexander come Friday lunchtime.
Physically the Cypriots still struggle and of the 22 goals they have conceded in qualifying nine have come inside the final ten minutes. With most players still plying their trade in a Cypriot First Division that still possess a large amateur contingent stamina is often an issue and whilst their shape has improved players of quality will eventually pull and pick their way through, a responsibility that seems set to fall on Caroline Weir in particular with usual protagonist-in-chief Kim Little out injured. Central defenders in particular are also often easily drawn towards the ball allowing for open space on the flanks and the big switches between Claire Emilie and Lisa Evans that helped see Scotland start qualifying in such devastating fashion should once again come to the fore.
WILL SCOTLAND WIN?
Yes, and to be honest anything less doesn’t bear thinking about. Cyprus have improved but if this is the beginning of a fresh start than nothing less than a victory over a side that is yet to score let alone win will do. Remember you can watch the game live tomorrow lunchtime at 1pm on BBC Alba via your tellyboxes or the iPlayer. Come on Scotland!
If you enjoyed this then please share, subscribe to the podcast at all the usual places, leave a review of many stars and tell all your friends. Remember you can follow the latest flights of fancy from Leading the Line via the Twitter page @LeadingtheLine.