Shelley Kerr’s conviction that it would be Scotland, and not closest rivals Switzerland, who qualified for next summer’s World Cup finals in France duly came to pass in Shkoder last night – but even the head coach was finding it difficult to fully grasp that her team will be in France next summer for their first appearance in the tournament.
It was a slice of history for the team. Scotland have never played at the Women’s World Cup before but the 2-1 victory over Albania coupled with Switzerland being held by Poland secured their place.
“It feels surreal and I feel I could sleep for a month,” Kerr admitted. “The whole week has been so tense and I’ve tried to keep calm as a coach.
“I’ve just told the players to try to win the games and they’ve done it magnificently. Nothing compares to this. The players have to take the credit because they put in all the hard work.”
The achievement comes 20 years after the men’s side last played in the World Cup – also in France. The 2-1 win at the Loro Borici Stadium wasn’t Scotland’s most convincing, but it made it seven wins out of eight in Group 2 and left Kerr and her players deserved winners.
Top seeds Switzerland, who had led the group for 12 months, drew 0-0 in Poland after losing 2-1 to Scotland on Thursday. That game in Paisley proved to be the pivotal fixture in the group, even although it left the Swiss only having to beat Poland to claim the sole qualifying place.
Some of their players celebrated after the Scotland game as if the job was already done – but now they, and not the Scots, face a really tough four-nation play-off for the final European place in France.
“It has been mentally draining and you could see that in the game tonight – but I’m not going to dissect the performance,” Kerr said. “For the first time ever, I won’t watch that game back. Now it’s about enjoying – a close mentor told me I need to try to enjoy it more when we win. One way or another I’m going to do that.”
Goals by Kim Little and Jane Ross took Scotland over the line despite Albania scoring an unscheduled equaliser just before half-time.
“At the end the players were asking ‘Are you sure, are you sure [we’ve qualifed]?’ ” Kerr revealed.
Captain Rachel Corsie said: “We had a huge, huge performance against Switzerland on Thursday and that really gave us a belief. We probably made it a bit trickier tonight than it needed to be, but it’s just incredible. As a group we’ve got togetherness and never want to give in. We saw that never-say-die attitude in the Poland game when we came back from 2-0 down with 12 minutes to play to win 3-2.”
The Scotland party arrive back in Edinburgh today.