Scotland Women put one foot in World Cup play-offs with massive win over Ukraine

Scotland Women took a massive step towards reaching the qualification play-offs for next year’s World Cup with an emphatic 4-0 away win over Ukraine.

A double from Martha Thomas, a strike from Erin Cuthbert and a penalty from Caroline Weir secured the victory for Pedro Martinez Losa’s team in Rzeszow.

Scotland are now four points clear in second place with one match remaining in Group B. They are unable to overhaul leaders Spain and qualify automatically for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, but they have now one foot in the play-offs with a four-point lead over third-placed Hungary. While they have a game in hand over the Scots, their matches are against now eliminated Ukraine and leaders Spain. Scotland’s last encounter is against the Faroe Islands, who have lost all of their ties so far.

It would therefore take an unlikely turn of events to deny Scotland a place in the play-offs. Their spot there feels richly deserved after they put in an impressive performance against the Ukrainians.

Scotland's Rachael Corsie carries off Erin Cuthbert during a FIFA Women's World Cup Qualifier between Ukraine and Scotland at Stadion Miejski w Rzeszowie, on June 24, 2022, in Rzeszow, Poland. (Photo by Lukasz Skwiot / SNS Group)

Played in Poland due to the Russian-led invasion of Ukraine, Scotland wasted little time in stamping their authority on proceedings. The two teams drew 1-1 at Hampden earlier in the qualification campaign, but the “hosts” were understandably a pale shadow of the team that played in Glasgow, due to their hampered preparations and circumstances in their homeland. Regardless, Scotland took full advantage.

However, their opening goal appeared on the fortuitous side. On eight minutes, Claire Emslie broke into the penalty box and while she got her effort on goal away, she tangled with Ukraine defender Darya Kravets. The referee had little doubt in pointing to the spot despite Ukrainian protests and while goalkeeper Kateryna Samson managed to get her hand to Weir’s penalty, it carried enough power to find the net.

Ukraine seemed to lose their confidence rapidly, lacking composure on the ball, while Scotland grew in stature. They had a second goal on 16 minutes when a neat interchange between Thomas and Cuthbert set the latter free in the box and she made no mistake with a low effort.

A third goal came two minutes later. It was simple yet effective, Cuthbert’s accurate corner to the far post finding Thomas to side-foot home from close range.

Ukraine’s heads had dropped and Scotland bagged a fourth on 41 minutes in similar circumstances. Cuthbert’s corner was again aimed at the back post and Thomas, completely unmarked, looped a header back across goal. It was game over already.

Ukraine tried to make more of an impact in the second half, but Scotland remained diligent. They survived strong claims for a penalty before goalkeeper Lee Alexander made a good save from a long-range effort from Yana Kalinina in the latter stages of the match to preserve her clean sheet. Martinez Losa used the second half to give some of his fringe players game-time in one of the most eye-catching performances of his tenure so far.

"I’m sure we can repeat this kind of performance more often," said Martinez Losa. "The heart and dedication of the team was very good.

"We knew we could exploit space in behind. We had moments we could control the game in possession. I’m pleased with that.

"In this moment we can’t ask the players for more. Ukraine are a good team coached by one of the best in the world. In this moment of the season, every player gave everything.

"It’s a step forward. We have to get consistency in the line-up so we can compete. The players are competing for places in training and that’s what you want as a manager."

Scotland’s final match in this group is against the Faroes on Tuesday, September 6, and they are now well and truly in control of their play-off destiny.