The Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne was the setting for Scotland’s last involvement in a World Cup finals, but some 20 years and six months later the nation will return to football’s top table in Paris tonight.
A 3-0 defeat to Morocco on June 23, 1998, was to prove the start of a major championship famine for the Scotland men’s team, but, having already competed in Euro 2017, the women’s side have taken up the mantle. That the 2019 World Cup is being played in France, as the 1998 men’s one was, only adds to the sense of historic occasion.
The latest Fifa women’s rankings, issued yesterday morning, confirmed that Scotland will be among the third seeds at the tournament draw which is being held in La Seine Musicale. Head coach Shelley Kerr and performance director Malky Mackay will be among those at the venue, which is situated on an island in the famous Paris river.
Alex Scott, the former England player who is now a television pundit, and Louis Saha are the conductors of what promises to be a glitzy affair. Among those assisting with the draw will be World Cup winners Cindy Cone and Steffi Jones – along with Didier Deschamps who, in the summer, became the third man to win the World Cup as a player and manager, Michael Essien and Kaka.
Kerr, whose profile has soared since guiding her side to their first World Cup – they pipped top seeds Switzerland to win Group 2 – says she has no preferences for the draw, other than to avoid holders USA. This despite her side performing very creditably last month against a side which has never finished outside the top three in the seven women’s World Cups played so far.
Scotland lost just 1-0 in Paisley but Kerr said: “As much as we played a very good tactical game against them it was tough, and I’d like to avoid them. They’re world champions for a reason – they have been serial winners and are a formidable force.”
England, now under the direction of Phil Neville, pictured, are also among the top seeds. Kerr has made it known they wouldn’t be the worst Pot 1 option, and, if fate takes a hand, there would be the opportunity to avenge the 6-0 hiding meted to Anna Signeul’s injury-hit side in the opening Euro 2017 group game.
“I won’t say we want this team and that one because there’s no such thing as a dream draw when you’re in a World Cup,” Kerr said. “We’re one of four teams competing for the first time in the finals – and I’m pretty sure the majority of teams will want to draw ourselves and the other three.”
The format of the tournament gives Kerr’s players the chance to go where no Scotland team, female or male, has gone before. There are six groups of four teams, with the top two qualifying automatically for the last 16, as well as the four best third-placed teams. As one of the third seeds that gives the Scots a better than 50-50 chance of becoming the first team from this country to reach the knock-out stages of a major championship. The squad now looks in better and more resilient shape than it was in the Netherlands last summer, and Kerr said: “Everybody connected to the women’s game was disappointed after the Euros.
“To get to the next level we needed to put a new criteria in place, develop a new style of play and be patient with it. It’s credit to the players how much they’ve bought into that.”