Scotland 1 - 1 Spain: Women in with a shout of European qualification
“WE’LL be coming down the road,” sang Scotland’s players on the big screens at Hampden last night as the full-time whistle was greeted with a video recorded specially for the occasion.
After a draw in this first leg of their European Championship play-off, that road could yet lead to their first appearance at a major finals. After a spectacle that attracted more than 4,000 spectators, it could also lead to a surge in the development of women’s football in this country.
The nuts and bolts of it were as follows: Scotland went ahead through a Kim Little penalty – awarded for handball – gifted their opponents a quick equaliser, and were mighty glad that Gemma Fay, their goalkeeper, saved a penalty, also for handball. The referee should have awarded a third penalty late in the game – again after a visiting player controlled the ball with her arm – but decided against it.
On Wednesday, Scotland head for the second leg in Madrid, where they still have a chance to reach next summer’s finals in Sweden. While Spain, ranked 17th in the world – five places above Scotland – are the better team, and still the favourites, an aggregate victory is not out of the question for Anna Signeul’s Scotland side. At the same stage in 2008, they were beaten only on away goals by Russia after losing the first leg 3-2 at Tynecastle.
“There are mixed feelings,” said Signeul. “We are disappointed because we knew we could do better. But we are quite happy to go away with a 1-1 draw because we know we can win. It was always going to be small margins in a game like this, but we are in a much better situation than we were four years ago.”
So, too, is the women’s game in Scotland. Some 4,050 turned up to see the home side overcome a shaky start and rise to the kind of occasion that they would like to experience on a more regular basis. “We thank all the fans that came,” said Signeul. “It was great to see. Maybe the big occasion made the players a little bit nervous, but they loved it. And now that the first time is over, next time we will be better.”
It was the first time Scotland’s women had played at Hampden. Usually, they play their home matches at Tynecastle, but the Hearts ground was unavailable, prompting the Scottish Football Association to offer the national stadium. Given the governing body’s failure in years gone by to support the women’s game, their gesture was a symbolic one, which also included free admission. The crowd wasn’t much for a venue of this size, but it was more than the women are used to, and certainly one that it was important to impress.
The occasion affected Scotland in the early stages, when they struggled to make it out of their own half, but once they took it upon themselves to press their opponents, they realised that a goal was possible. Jane Ross, of Glasgow City, might have got one when she collected an angled pass on the edge of the penalty area, beat two opponents and hit a left-foot shot that the goalkeeper beat away.
Despite conceding large swathes of possession to their opponents – who relied upon the same passing principles for which their men’s team are famous – Scotland took the lead after 26 minutes. When Jennifer Beattie rose to meet Megan Sneddon’s corner, the header was touched on to the post by Spain’s goalkeeper, after which there was a scramble that included a handball by Erika Vazquez. Little struck the resulting penalty firmly inside the left-hand post. The pity for Scotland was they quite literally threw the lead away just four minutes later. The shot by Sonia Bermudez was not particularly powerful, but Gemma Fay, the Celtic goalkeeper, was kicking herself for a fumble that allowed Adriana Martin to bundle in the equaliser.
At least Fay, who is also the Scotland captain, went on to make up for her mistake. As Scotland reeled from their setback, the goalkeeper pulled off a string of saves, turning round the post a half-volley by Bermudez, punching away a header by Erika Vazquez and brilliantly stopping a penalty by Martin. The spot kick was awarded when Rhonda Jones, trying to control a harmless through-ball, handled in the box. Not only did Fay save the penalty, with a dive low to her left, she was also up quickly to block Martin’s rebound.
At the other end, Beattie came close with a header that looped narrowly wide, but the activity around each goal lasted only until the interval. After half-time, both teams tightened up, and perhaps tired on the big Hampden pitch, managing only occasionally to force a save from their respective goalkeepers. Emma Mitchell, a substitute for Ross, added energy to proceedings, and might have scored with a shot that Ainhoa Tirapu saved. Vazquez had a better chance for Spain, but fluffed her chance at the back post. Martin’s head flick, after a corner by Bermudez, also threatened to sneak in but bounced instead off the top of the crossbar.
With ten minutes left, Scotland were denied what looked like a clear penalty when Melisa Nicolau handled in the box. Perhaps weary of penalising that offence, the referee waved play on, infuriating the Scottish players, particularly Lisa Evans, who would have been in on goal had the defender’s arm not stopped the ball’s progress.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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