The big thing about Scotland’s final World Cup warm-up match on Tuesday wasn’t that a record crowd turned up to cheer them, it was that every player came through the 90 minutes unscathed. Well, almost.
“I bruised my heart,” said Erin Cuthbert, who it is impossible not to like, as a player who always gives her all and can weigh in with telling goals or a person who bubbles with an enthusiasm that is warming and infectious. “I think I need to get a wee check there!”
She is worried the damage was done when her sensational 30-yard strike flew into the top corner of the net at Hampden and over 18,000 fans rose in unison to hail her effort. It was a moment when she feared her heart might burst.
The type of shot she attempts every day, to have it work on such a stage was huge for the overall scoreline, with Scotland going on to defeat Jamaica 3-2, and for morale as they count down the days until they leave for France and take on England in their inaugural World Cup group match on 9 June.
“Usually I would shank it. I try them in training as well but you never ever dream of them going in, especially in a game like this. That was beyond my wildest dreams. I think you could see that in my celebration. I just put my hand over my mouth... I couldn’t quite believe it. I think the gods were looking out for me.
“I just wish I celebrated better.Honestly, I do. I wish I had slid to my knees or gone running round.”
It was probably as well she didn’t as manager Shelley Kerr, pictured right, does not want to see any of her star players injured at this late stage and, after a stellar year, Cuthbert is, undoubtedly, one of her key women. A star in the Chelsea side that reached the Champions League semi-finals, the diminutive attacker was also nominated for this season’s PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year award and, having bought into Kerr’s philosophy, heads to this top-class tournament in buoyant mood.
“That wasn’t the prettiest of performances against Jamaica but, even when we are not at our best, we still find a way to win. We need that going into tournament football because the games come thick and fast . We need to have that killer instinct.
“Most of the squad play full-time, at the same clubs as the English players. We know each other so we’re excited. In my mind, it’s quite a level playing field.
“They are my friends before the game and after the game but during it things will be different. We will be wearing different coloured shirts and I will be concentrating on my team only.”
Given a few days to rest up before embarking on final preparations, Cuthbert recognises the value of the downtime but paints a picture of someone for whom the occasion can not come soon enough.
“It will be incredible. I can’t quite describe it. It has been a crazy 12 months for me – a Champions League semi and now scoring at Hampden in front of such a big crowd. It is what dreams are made of. I just need to keep my feet on the floor, keep concentrating and keep working hard in training. I have good people around me and the talent in this team is incredible and that talent is now being unlocked by Shelley. We are now seeing a new kind of football from the Scottish women.
“I think it is the freshness of a new person. It can become almost laboursome when you have had the same manager. I was only in the national team a couple of years [under Kerr’s predecessor Anna Signuel] but for some people, having the same manager and the same tactics and philosophy for so long… when something is fresh, it is exciting and it brings out a side of you, you maybe hadn’t been able to unlock.
“Under Shelley, players have been able to do that and I think we always had the quality in the team but now we are playing a different style of football, based on attacking, and we are enjoying that.
“Against England, we know we are going to have to get our defensive side of the game right, but, attacking wise, we can hurt anybody and we showed that even against Brazil.”
Five games unbeaten in the run- in, including that 1-0 triumph over Brazil, shows the form the team are in, but everyone is aware that they were battered 6-0 by the Auld Enemy when they last met two years ago. They are also confident that they now have the ability to put up more of a fight, though.
“It is almost the same squad but more of the talent is being unlocked under Shelley. We are now playing a brand of football that is exciting to play and it is attractive to watch and we want to capture the interest of the nation.”
There is already evidence they are doing that. Among the 18,555 at Hampden were Judy Murray, men’s coach Steve Clarke, pictured left, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. “Me and Nicola share the same birthday, went to the same school, so we are obviously quite tight!” joked Cuthbert. “They came in to congratulate us and wish us the best of luck and we are really thankful for their support. It means a lot for all the girls to get the recognition they deserve. It is nice that the women’s game is moving forward. We can all see promising signs.”