Scotland’s Lana Clelland achieving mission impossible

Lana Clelland takes a break from Scotland training as the team gear up for the game against Argentina. Picture: Lorraine Hill.
Lana Clelland takes a break from Scotland training as the team gear up for the game against Argentina. Picture: Lorraine Hill.
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Former Spartans striker Lana Clelland hopes to have the opportunity to build on her goal against Japan in Rennes when Scotland play Argentina in tomorrow night’s game at the Parc des Princes. Shelley Kerr’s side need a win to have any chance of qualifying for the last 16 following 2-1 defeats against England and Japan.

The lower-ranked Argentines are a point better off in Group D despite having failed to score in the tournament. Their 0-0 draw with Japan got them off to a productive start, while their subsequent 1-0 defeat by England confirmed them to be a well organised and disciplined side who are hard to break down.

Fiorentina’s Clelland could be in line for a very rare start. She wasn’t selected in Nice, but came on for West Ham striker
Jane Ross with 14 minutes remaining in Rennes and rewarded Kerr with a sweet left-footed shot from 25 yards.

“I just thought I’m hitting this,” the 26-year-old said at the team hotel in the French capital. “There was no pressure. It was 2-0 down. What was the worse thing that could happen?”

The confidence of the strike contrasted with Clelland’s inability to convert a couple of straightforward chances in the second Euro 2017 group match against Portugal. She had been given a rare Scotland start by Anna Signeul because Ross was injured in the opener against England, but failed to grasp the opportunity and has remained the second, or even third-choice striker under Kerr.

Nevertheless, there is evidence that Clelland’s switch from middling Serie A club UPC Tavagnacco to Fiorentina last July is paying off. She missed a number of Scotland’s World Cup build-up games through injury, but also scored another well-taken goal against Iceland in January.

Friday’s strike made it two in three matches, a statistic which reads even better when it is factored in that she was only on the pitch for a total of 54 minutes.

Growing up playing with boys in Methven, Clelland graduated to Rangers and then Spartans before moving to the first of her three Italian clubs in 2014. She now speaks the language fluently, and loves life in Florence, but never dreamed that football could offer so many opportunities.

Asked if she had dreamed about scoring a goal in the World Cup when she was a small girl, she replied: “Never. Never thought it was possible. I’m a kid and I love football but the women’s World Cup wasn’t on TV and it wasn’t out there. There wasn’t anything to visualise. I didn’t realise I could even play professionally. Obviously there were people like Kim [Little] who went down south, but for everyone it wasn’t there.”

There was, Clelland says, also a shortage of role models for her to look up to, but Julie Fleeting, below, who scored a staggering 116 goals in 121 games for Scotland, was the exception. “I was part of the first ever Rangers Ladies team,” she pointed out.

“You’re 15 years old. How are you supposed to look up to someone when you’re in the same team as them? Julie was the only one in the spotlight, she was a Scotland striker. I used to go to games and she was always the standout.”

While the trend among current players is to seek a move to England, Clelland is happy not to have conformed. “I took a different path from most of the other girls in the [Scotland] team and jumped at the chance of going abroad,” she explained.

“When I first went out to Italy the dream was maybe England. The league was growing so much and all the professional clubs, Chelsea, Man City, were coming in. If I look at the Italian league now – Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Fiorentina where I’m at – it has grown so much in the last five years. It’s a pleasure to be part of it. I’m quite a laid-back, chilled-out person, so to live the life of the Italians suits me. I’m absolutely settled on and off the pitch. I love it.”