FORGET dream endings. When the European Championships qualifiers came to a conclusion last year, it amounted to a personal nightmare for Rachel Corsie. An anterior cruciate ligament injury forced her to leave the pitch prematurely in the play-off with Spain.
She re-emerged from the dressing room in time to celebrate Kim Little’s extra-time goal, which offered them hope that they would be the first Scotland women’s side to qualify for the finals of a major tournament but, in the end, it wasn’t enough, two late Spain goals leaving Corsie and co distraught.
“It went from real disappointment to elation to tears again,” says the 24-year-old captain of top Scottish club side Glasgow City. “That one was painful. It was a hard one to take for a lot of the girls. We came so close.”
The rehabilitation has been both mental and physical as the squad regrouped and Corsie fought back from the knee injury. Now, with a double-header away to the Faroe Islands today and then at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina at Firhill on Tuesday, they hope to put that disappointment to bed, with a winning start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.
“I think the Euros have convinced us that we can compete,” she says.
“We got so close. I’m not sure it’s more realistic to expect us to qualify this time because there are eight European slots and we are currently ranked 11th, but we will be doing everything we can, because those who were involved against Spain that day know how it felt to miss out.
“Since then I think we have grown as a team, and although we expect it to be very tough, we have a lot of quality. A lot of our players are now competing in top leagues domestically, playing against quality players week in, week out.”
With players based down south and across continental Europe, a large chunk of the national squad is made up of Glasgow City players who have benefitted from regular Champions League involvement, according to the chartered accountant.
“The Champions League is the biggest stage and, in my opinion, playing in that can only help,” says Corsie. The bonus for manager Anna Signeul is that she can now select players with big game experience, with international football no longer considered such a huge jump from the club game for the majority of the Scotland set-up.
For Corsie, though, the thrill is simply in being back competing at the top level after her own 12 month rehabilitation. Closing in on her 50th cap, she says she never doubted that she could rediscover full fitness and gain fresh honours but it was an arduous and trying battle.
“The European games for City and the thought of the World Cup qualifiers gave me something to aim for, but mentally it was obviously very tough. Coming back from ACL reconstruction is never an easy journey but getting 50 caps is a big achievement for any player and it’s something I am very proud of. I can still remember my first cap, against France. I remember the build-up to the match, everything about the game. I was playing alongside players who I had looked up to.”
Personal heroes, but many have since retired, their place in the history books assured, their place at a major championships never quite materialising, despite edging closer and closer over recent years. It’s something that many have regrets about and it’s from those regrets that the current squad are running scared.
“I think that’s true. We are getting closer and last year we were within touching distance and I think most of the players in this squad would be devastated if we never get to a European Championships or, hopefully, a World Cup. We are continuing to improve and we feel we have a very good chance but it will be tough. We know that but we believe in each other.”
And it’s that pain in Spain which remains the inspiration. “There were a lot of girls in tears after that one. Obviously, after Kim scored we all hoped we could hang on but their two goals late on were devastating. But I think we have learned from that experience. You have to.”
Even at Glasgow City, the aim is always to pluck positives from the embers of defeat. Domestically, such is their dominance, they rarely have to deal with that, but the Champions League is the one stage where they are underdogs once in a while. It helps them deal with whatever international football can throw at them, though.
Having reached the last 16 in the premier club competition, the defeat to Potsdam [a 17-0 aggregate thrashing] was one of the worst things Corsie has had to contend with. “But they are a top quality side, one of the best sides in Europe, and we came through it stronger and it was a learning experience,” said the defender. “It was painful, very painful, at the time, but you always have the chance to make amends.”
This season they could come up against the might of Arsenal in the club competition, but the international stage gives them the platform to bolster the belief levels ahead of that encounter. The aim is for this campaign to have a happy ending. History could be made and that is something of which Corsie and her team-mates are acutely aware. It’s something they are also desperate to deliver on.