Despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary, Glasgow City midfielder Jo Love believes that Scotland can beat a very good Spanish side by two goals on Thursday and reach the Euro 2017 quarter-finals.
Even though they lost their opening two games to England and Portugal, the Scots can still implausibly reach the last eight as Group D runners-up. If Mark Sampson’s side, as they should, beat Portugal, then Scotland would join them in the knockout stages if they could somehow find the wherewithal to beat Spain by two or more.
Such an outcome would, of course, be sweet revenge for the worst night in Love’s extensive footballing career. She is by far Scotland’s most capped outfield player with 179 appearances, but while some of them might become a blur over time, she will never exorcise the memories a game on the outskirts of Madrid late in 2012.
Scotland were on the brink of qualifying for the European Championship in Sweden the following summer, needing just to hang on for a few more seconds to beat Spain on away goals with the tie balanced 3-3 on aggregate in extra time. Then the home side scored with the last kick of the ball.
“If you ask any of us who were involved, we would all point to that match as our worst moment in football,” the 31-year-old said. “It was the way it happened, with it being the last minute and ultimately it puts us out.
“We were on top of the world just five seconds before they scored.”
While the delicious prospect of revenge being a dish best served cold holds much enticement for Love and those of her team-mates who were playing that night, a cold analysis at how Group D has unfolded so far suggests that Spain going through to the quarter-finals is far more likely.
They beat Portugal 2-0 in their first game and eased off in the second 45 minutes having already got the job done. They then lost by the same scoreline to England on Sunday but had a penalty decision in their favour reversed when the score was 1-0.
They also had an incredible 74 per cent of possession against a side which could well go on to win the tournament.
Scotland, by contrast, shipped six goals to England and then spurned excellent early chances against Portugal before losing a horror goal and ending up on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline earlier on Sunday.
Despite these results, Love remains defiant. “I think we can get the two goal win – our luck has to change at some point,” she said.
“We had our chances against Portugal and the majority of possession. We hit the post twice so here’s hoping for a change of fortune against Spain.
“Of course we owe Spain one. We also owe Scotland one because we have to show we can win and compete against the best teams. We don’t want to leave the tournament without any points.”
The glimmer of hope from the Portugal game, which Scotland should have buried in the opening 25 minutes, was the first goal for the women’s side in a national championship. It was scored by outstanding Chelsea teenager Erin Cuthbert, who must now start her first game of the Euros against Spain.
The attacking midfielder came on as an early second-half substitute for Lana Clelland, whose first-half misses were so costly. Although she is not a striker, Cuthbert obliged with an equalising goal which she did as much to create as to finish.
Clelland and Vaila Barsley, whose failure to clear a deflected cross led to the game-changing first Portugal goal, had never started a competitive game for Scotland before the Euros.
“We’ve had to make changes all the time,” head coach Anna Signeul pointed out. “I hate to sit and just have a lot of excuses – that feels terrible, because it’s not what we’re about.
“But there has been a lot of adversity and having to find new combinations.
“It has just been very tough from the start when we started to lose so many players.”