Sophie Howard: It took me a very long time to get over 2019 - we're ready to make it happen

When Argentina dismissed Scotland from the 2019 World Cup, Sophie Howard, the Leicester defender, was one of the most distressed players in the post-match mixed zone. Unable to articulate the devastation of her part in a 3-3 draw where Argentina came back from 3-0 down with 15 minutes to go, Howard could not formulate the words to match the bleakness of her emotions.
Scotland's Sophie Howard applauds the fans.Scotland's Sophie Howard applauds the fans.
Scotland's Sophie Howard applauds the fans.

Finding a way past that did not come easily. It took months for her to come to terms with the horror of that collapse. Like many who remain in Pedro Martinez Losa’s squad who were part of that team, the anguish of a sobering first experience at the premier tournament in world football has been the catalyst to make it to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“It took me a long time to get over it [2019] but I had people around me helping me get back on my feet,” said Howard. “So yes, I'm very determined, especially with this group, it would make it very special. We're ready to go on Tuesday to make it happen.”

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The Republic of Ireland, of course, will have something to say about that. On paper Austria were the more challenging of the two sides across the semi-final and final but football does not tend to be as straightforward as numbers on A4 sheets. There is an interesting aside to the game, too, with former Scotland manager Vera Pauw in charge of the Irish who are pushing to make it to their first World Cup.

There would be a danger in Scotland underestimating their visitors, as Howard is well aware. Given the magnitude of the game and what is at stake nerves will be as evident on Tuesday night as they were at points in Thursday’s meeting.

“I think it will be an ugly game like it was on Thursday,” said Howard. “We obviously know a lot of their players from playing against them in the WSL. It will be about who wins most second balls – that's what it was about against Austria and our midfield did that fantastically. It's going to be a special game.”

Despite the focus needing to be on Ireland, Howard revealed that the players let their hair down a little on Thursday night in the aftermath of the win over Austria. The belief is that it will force a recharge ahead of having to go again in the drive to win one of the remaining tickets to Australia and New Zealand, although given the various permutations of that route Scotland could still yet face a February Inter-Continental play-off in February.

“Celebrating a small win is important,” reflected Howard. “I don't think we do that often enough so on Thursday we celebrated the win. Then yesterday we had some recovery and focus on the game on Tuesday. We celebrated with on Thursday night and this team is a family so we celebrated with each and everyone's families upstairs.”

There was also a quiet word with Austria striker Nicole Billa. Howard and Billa shared a flat together when both players were at Hoffenheim with the Scottish defender delighted, in the nicest possible sense, to see the back of her former team-mate at Hampden.

“I had a little chat with her after the game,” said Howard. “Obviously she was devastated so I didn’t get a lot out of her. I'm not going to lie, it played into our hands when she got subbed. She is a top goalscorer. She's also been the top scorer for the Bundesliga in previous years.”