Scotland Women have qualified for the 2019 World Cup in France after defeating Albania Women 2-1 in Shkoder.
Goals from Kim Little and Jane Ross, combined with Switzerland’s goalless draw with Poland, ensured the Scots topped Group 2 with 21 points from their eight games and became the first Scotland Women’s team to reach a World Cup.
Scotland knew they had to better the Swiss result in Mielec, and Jen Beattie’s header on five minutes signalled the team’s intent, although the referee had blown for a foul.
Less than five minutes later, Scotland took the lead.
Lizzie Arnot got her head to a Lisa Evans cross and nodded the ball down to Little, and the Arsenal Ladies midfielder controlled the ball before hammering past Viona Rexhepi in the Albania goal.
Scotland continued to press, but found Rexhepi in fine form. The KFF Mitrovica ‘keeper made a superb double save from Erin Cuthbert and Jane Ross on 14 minutes as the Scots looked to double their advantage.
Cuthbert went close with an effort from the edge of the box that cleared the bar, before being denied again on 39 minutes.
Emma Mitchell was next to try her luck as the half time interval loomed but again Rexhepi was equal to the shot.
On the stroke of half time however, a lapse in concentration let Albania back in to the game. Megi Doci got on the ball inside the Scotland penalty area and lashed the ball beyond Lee Alexander.
It was a cruel blow for Scotland, who had had numerous chances to increase their lead before their opponents struck against the run of play.
Kerr made a half time substitution, bringing on Chloe Arthur for Sophie Howard, and Scotland picked up where they had left off, with Mitchell heading just wide before hitting the post with the ‘keeper beaten just before the hour mark.
Rexhepi was called into action once again moments later, the 22-year-old beating away Cuthbert’s effort from distance. Claire Emslie replaced Lizzie Arnot on 66 minutes as Scotland chased a winner.
Two minutes later, Scotland retook the lead. From a free kick around 35 yards from goal, Beattie knocked the ball across goal to Ross, who rose highest to divert it past a stranded Rexhepi.
Scotland surged forward in search of a killer third goal, with Emslie having an effort saved before Beattie came agonisingly close to diverting a cross into the net.
It mattered little, however, as the Scots held on during a nervy last five minutes to seal their passage to France next summer.
Speaking to the BBC after the match, Cuthbert said she was “utterly speechless”, adding: “It’s probably the best moment of my life - I can’t really do this without crying.
“It’s always hard when you’re relying on other results but we had to do what we could on our pitch. Albania made it really tough for us but champions find a way to win and we did that.
“Every single one of these girls deserve to go to the World Cup.”
Head coach Shelley Kerr, capped 59 times for Scotland between 1989 and 2008, added: “I’m lost for words. I don’t know what to say, apart from we knew the game would be tough. Albania caused problems [during the campaign] because teams haven’t dealt with the physical side of the game.
“Throughout the campaign, we’ve deserved it. The players have grown and grown and grown. I’m so proud for everyone involved in the girls’ and women’s game in Scotland.
“I’m a bit emotional right now. I’m so proud of them.”
Scotland: Lee Alexander, Emma Mitchell, Rachel Corsie (capt.), Jen Beattie, Sophie Howard (Chloe Arthur, 46), Caroline Weir, Kim Little, Lisa Evans, Jane Ross, Erin Cuthbert, Lizzie Arnot (Claire Emslie, 66). Subs not used: Shannon Lynn, Joanne Love, Christie Murray, Lana Clelland, Fiona Brown.