Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland getting to World Cup is boost for women's game

Twenty years have passed since Scottish footballers last took part in a World Cup Finals tournament.

Scotland celebrate after victory over Albania meant they qualified for the World Cup in France next year

Craig Brown’s team ultimately came home too soon after being knocked out in the group stage – a familiar story over the years – and no Scottish team has since performed on the biggest stage of all.

But now, thanks to the efforts of the women’s national team, that long wait is coming to an end.

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Next year, we will take our place alongside the elite of the women’s game at the championships in France – ironically, the same host nation as in 1998, the last time our men’s team made it to the finals.

As patron of the team, I want to say how proud I am of their achievement. Huge congratulations are due to Shelley Kerr and the whole squad after clinching their place with a fine away win over Albania on Tuesday.

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And while it may be the first time that Scotland’s women have qualified for the World Cup, this week’s historic events are the culmination of a long journey.

Women’s football has been on a steady upward curve in Scotland for the last few years.

More girls and women are playing the game than ever before, and there is rising interest among fans too, with many of the national team’s home games drawing very healthy-sized crowds.

That is part of a wider international trend, where women’s football is no longer seen as the poor relation of the men’s game.

Many countries have seen a surge in popularity, with the most recent women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015 drawing some huge attendances.

That is the kind of stage our girls can look forward to in France next year – it is their chance to shine in front of a global TV audience.

The vast majority of the Scotland squad are full-time professionals – but most of them are also playing their club football in other countries, outside Scotland.

It would be great if one of the legacies of qualifying for the World Cup was that it allowed the women’s game to grow further here in Scotland to the point where more of our top players were home-based.

I’m pleased to see that the powers that be at the SFA believe that reaching the finals can help generate more resources for the women’s game.

And there is no doubt that young girls across the country now have footballing role models in the way that their male peers have had for generations.

I was proud to be in the Netherlands last summer to watch Scotland at last year’s European Championships.

The whole nation will be willing them on next year in France.