For the Scottish women’s national team 2021 was a year of highs, lows, departures and hellos. A year that started in uncertainty about what the future for the national side would bring and ended with some of the same questions with which it began. There were last minute scenes and elongated heartbreaks. It was a year that broke records and saw new eras begin as stalwarts of recent glories decided to walk off into the sunset amidst the hope that new heroes are set to emerge.
It was glory, it was failure and everything in between. This is the story of the Scotland Women’s National Team in 2021.
The new year began with Scotland in search of a new head coach following the confirmation of Shelley Kerr’s long anticipated departure on Christmas Eve, brining to an end a three and a half year spell that brought a World Cup debut but ended with a Euro 2022 qualifying campaign to forget as we were eliminated with two games to spare.
With no imminent appointment on the horizon Scotland Men’s U16 Head Coach Stuart McLaren was handed the role on an interim basis but as one new face arrived on the scene a familiar one would depart as Leanne Crichton announced her retirement from the international game having appeared at Euro 2017 and World Cup 2019 and amassing 72 caps during a 14-year international career. Her bite and ability to agitate opponents in the middle of the park would be a presence that Scotland would struggle to replace.
With McLaren’s limited exposure to the women’s game Scotland and Glasgow City legend Leanne Ross was announced as part of the former Stirling Albion manager’s coaching team, having represented her country on 133 occasions and won every honour going on multiple occasions in the domestic game ahead of the dead rubbers against Cyprus and Portugal.
Both those Euro 2021 qualifying ties would be played in Larnaca as Scotland remained off limits to the rest of the world with Portugal’s scheduled visit to Tynecastle moved to the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium as the virus that will not die continued to play havoc with the international schedule.
SWNT’s trip to Cyprus bore mixed results. Against Cyprus they followed up on their 8-0 victory at Easter Road earlier in the campaign with a 10-0 victory at the AEK Arena as doubles from Erin Cuthbert, Martha Thomas and Jane Ross along with goals from Caroline Weir, Kirsty Hanson, Lizzie Arnot and Claire Emslie sealed a comprehensive victory. The result was emphatic but the opposition was poor and any hope that this was a squad rehabilitated were put on the back burner four days later as Scotland limped to a 2-0 defeat to the Portuguese meaning the top seeded Scots had lost all four ties against their two Amin rivals, played four, lost four, scored none.
With qualifying over new focus was placed on the search for a permanent appointment led by the newly appointed Head of Girls & Women’s Football, Fiona McIntyre following a seven year spell growing the domestic game as CEO of Scottish Women’s Football.
One contender to emerge was former Canada Head Coach and team mate of Rose Reilly, Caroline Morace, however the Italian’s stint at the head of the running was brief as the SFA continued to cast their net heading into the spring.
With the senior side in a state of flux the U17 & U19 sides made their first tentative steps towards a return for the first time since 2020 as the draws were made for their respective Euro group stages.
Pauline Hamill’s U19s would be drawn to face Austria, Ukraine and Netherlands, with the Dutch acting as hosts in October while Pauline MacDonald’s U17s would also be heading to the low country to face Netherlands, Slovenia and Czech Republic with fixtures scheduled for September.
As the search for a new permenant head coach soared past the 100 day mark attention turned to qualifying for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Following Euro disappointment Scotland would see their seeding drop from Pot One to Pot Two for a draw that was held on the final day of the month.
Despite that drop down the pecking order Scotland were handed a relatively kind draw as Hungary, Ukraine and Faroe Islands all presented opportunity to build new momentum ahead of a daunting trip to face top seeds Spain later in the year. Playoffs a more than realistic ambition for a squad looking to bounce back from Euro disappointment.
The FA led Team GB Olympic squad was announced with two Scottish representatives making the cut, as part of a much debated qualification and selection process, as Manchester City midfielder Caroline Weir joined Arsenal’s Kim Little in Tokyo. Little, the only Scot to have been selected for both the 2012 and 2020 games.
Debate around whether or not Scotland and the other home nations should be competing as part of a Team GB side continues to rage on but both midfielders expressed their excitement at being able to compete on one of the world’s biggest sporting stage albeit it amongst muted surrounds as the pandemic continued to cast it’s wicked spell on the world.
The senior side returned to action with two low key friendlies against Euro 2022 qualifiers Northern Ireland and fellow home nation Wales as Stuart McLaren continued as interim head coach. A late Caroline Weir penalty would seal a 1-0 victory at a blustery Seaview in Belfast in a game which Hibernian defender Leah Eddie made her debut as a late substitute before a much changed side would register another 1-0 victory against the Welsh. Erin Cuthbert capitalising on defensive indecision to make it two wins from two in Llanelli.
That trip to South Wales would be McLaren’s final game in charge as he ended with a record of played four, won three, lost one. Despite McLaren showing an interest in taking the role on a full time basis it was the departure of Glasgow City Head Coach Scott Booth to Birmingham City that was seen as more significant in the pursuit of a new national team manager as Scotland prepared for the reality that any new appointment would start with a baptism of fire in the opening rounds of World Cup Qualifying.
After a 209 day long process, on the 21st July Scotland announced the appointment of Spaniard Pedro Martínez Losa as the new national team head coach. The former Rayo Vallecano, Arsenal and Bordeaux boss replacing Shelley Kerr nearly seven months after her departure, with Kerr now in role as the technical lead for the English FA’s women’s national teams having taken on the role in May.
Martínez Losa arrived having guided Bordeaux to third place in the 2020/21 Division 1 Féminine to secure a first Champions League appearance for the French side to add to honours won both in England and his homeland.
His appointment would coincide with the launch of the SFA’s Accelerate Our Game strategy for the women’s game, an all encompassing five year plan designed to improve governance, raise profile, increase professionalism, grow attendances and improve performances from the grassroots to the elite level in Scotland.
July would also be the month that would see Hampden announced as the new home for the women’s national side ending decades of nomadic existence for the women’s national side. A move universally backed by players not just in dark blue but from those scheduled to arrive in Mount Florida over the course of the forthcoming World Cup campaign.
In a quiet month for national team news, the most significant event happened the other side of the Atlantic as Rachel Corsie’s newly franchised Kansas City FC (now known as the Kansas City Current) registered their first ever victory. A 1-0 win over OL Reign ending a 13 game winless run after a move that saw the Scotland captain relocated from Utah whilst the defender was visiting home.
Preparations for opening World Cup qualifiers away to Hungary and then at home to Faroe Islands were dealt a blown when 140-capped vice captain Kim Little called time on her international career having been the creative fulcrum for the national side for over a decade. The 31-year-old leaving a legacy that will see her referenced as one of the greatest players the national side has ever produced.
With Little no longer available focus would shift onto those who were available to take the field in Budapest. Despite a sticky first half where the Hungarian press caused Scotland regular problems an early rebound goal from her own saved penalty by Erin Cuthbert and a Martha Thomas header saw the Pedro Martinez Losa era get off to a winning start in a game where Glasgow City winger Lauren Davidson would make her debut.
Scotland would continue their 100% start to qualifying with a 7-1 victory over the Faroe Islands in front of 4,513 fans at their new home Hampden. After Erin Cuthbert opened the scoring two headers from Chloe Arthur, her first goals for Scotland, put the home side on easy street before Christy Grimshaw and Martha Thomas would have Martínez Losa’s side five goals up with an hour gone.
Debutant centre half Jenna Clark would add a sixth before an exquisite Claire Emslie free kick would round out the scoring on a performance who’s only blemish was a sloppily conceded effort just after half time as the spectre of defensive frailties past peeked from behind the curtain.
Unfortunately the U17’s had to withdraw from their Euro qualifying trip to the Netherlands following a covid outbreak within the Scottish squad meaning their wait for a return to competitive action continues.
Scotland continued their perfect start to qualifying but were made to work for it against a well organised Hungary side fortified by an inspired goalkeeping display from Réka Szöcs. A cooly taken Christy Grimshaw effort just before half time provided the reward that Scottish dominance had deserved but a slow start to the second period saw the Hungarians get a deserved equaliser on the counter through Fanny Vágó.
Scotland huffed and puffed before captain Rachel Corsie would provide the game winning moment as the clock ticked into injury time, echoing the Hampden scenes that had accompanied Scott McTominay’s late winner against Israel two weeks earlier, sending home a SWNT competitive record crowd of 6,445 boogying into the cold Glasgow night.
A 2-0 friendly defeat against a classy Sweden would follow amongst wild conditions in Paisley, a result that would hand Pedro Martinez Losa his first defeat as manager.
Unlike their U17 counterparts, the U19s were able to make thier Euro qualifying trip to the Netherlands but they would fall short of qualification for the next stage. A 1-0 defeat to Austria was followed by a 1-1 draw with Ukraine, Hibernian striker Eilidh Adams scoring the Scottish goal, before the hosts secured a comfortable 3-0 victory.
Scotland would again require last minute Hampden magic this time to salvage a point at home to Ukraine.
In a game the Scots dominated it would be the visitors that would take the lead as Scotland were once again exposed at the back, Rokoslana Kravchuk bursting through to cooly slot past Lee Alexander. Scotland struggled to break down well organised opposition and had Alexander to thank for a superb late save from Tamila Khimich to set the platform for more Mount Florida scenes as Abi Harrison, on her first Scotland start, and first appearance for over two and half years, found the back of the net with seconds to spare. Enough to rescue a point but not to maintain Scotland’s 100% start to World Cup qualifying.
A surprise 4-2 win for Hungary over Ukraine a few days later meant that the expected defeat in Seville against a rampant Spain could be absorbed in the chase for the play-offs but the manner in which Pedro Martínez Losa’s side crashed so spectacularly to a record equaling 8-0 defeat against for the side many believe to be the best in the world today left far more questions than answers as Scotland ended the year on a three game winless run.
It’s award season and the increasingly talismanic Erin Cuthbert is announced as the Scotland Women’s National Team Player of the Year while at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Arsenal Jen Beattie is presented with the Helen Rollason Award for her work in raising breast cancer awareness and continuing to play despite her diagnosis and subsequent recovery.
In the FIFA world rankings Scotland ended 2021 where they started it at 23rd and finish the year second in World Cup Qualifying Group B, four points clear of nearest rivals Hungary and armed with the knowledge that victory away to Ukraine next April will be enough to see them take the first step on the long and winding road to Australasia via the playoffs.
2021 IN NUMBERS
For fans of the Scotland women’s national team 2021 was a year that came with exhilarating highs, humbling lows and long spells of not really knowing what was going to happen next. Despite all those things though we have made it. We will fight another day. Destiny remains within in our hands. 2022 could be the biggest of years for the Scotland women’s national team yet.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you all as we go along for the ride.