Chelsea teenager Erin Cuthbert could be in line for her first Euro 2017 start against Spain in Deventer tomorrow. Scotland need to win by two goals and also rely on England beating Portugal in the other Group D game to have any chance of making the quarter finals.
Cuthbert made history in Sunday’s group game against Portugal by coming on early in the second half and scoring in the 68th minute. It was the first ever goal by a Scottish woman at a major tournament.
The 19-year-old, whose birthday was last Thursday, wasn’t even born when the Scotland men’s team scored their last goal in a major championship. That was back in June 1998, when Craig Burley scored against Norway in the second group match of the World Cup in France.
“I’ve heard of him,” said Cuthbert, who like her male predecessor is from Ayrshire. “That’s superb. It has been a while then, hasn’t it?”
The man who scored Scotland’s first-ever goal in a major championship, Jimmy Murray of Hearts, died two years ago this month, aged 82. He found the net against Yugoslavia in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden – Scotland having failed to score in either of their two games in Switzerland four years earlier.
“When I came on as a sub it was my job to make an impact,” Cuthbert said of the 14 minutes it took her to find the net. “When I got the equaliser I felt we had it in our grasp to go on and win the game. We hope to put things right against Spain.”
Head coach Anna Signeul sent Cuthbert on for striker Lana Clelland, but it’s a role she rarely plays at club level.
“I grew up playing as a holding midfielder, then at Glasgow City it was an attacking midfielder,” she pointed out. “I’ve played a number of positions at Chelsea – we’re very rotational and we can all play anywhere along the front three.”
Cuthbert’s head coach at Glasgow City was Scott Booth, another of the 1998 World Cup squad. Losing the teenager to Chelsea in the winter was a huge blow to the ten-times Scottish champions, although an inevitable next step for the most talented footballer of her generation.
Her parents guided her towards dancing classes, but the four-year-old was having none of it and from then on her childhood was all about football. Born in Irvine, she played for one boys’ club until she was ten, and then joined another.
“I was also playing for Kilwinning Girls, so I was playing on Saturdays and Sundays,” she explained. “The best thing for me was to stay in boys’ football as long as I could. The physical aspect is just so much greater than the girls’ game.”
The formula worked and when she was no longer allowed to play with boys she joined Rangers Ladies, once scoring a goal at the age of 15 which had a tabloid newspaper labelling her Little Miss Messi.
“I hate it,” she said of the tag. “I like to be my own player.
“The irony is that Messi, along with Iniesta, is my favourite player. Definitely Messi for the magic he can show in the final third, and Iniesta for the way he sprays passes and dictates games.”
Cuthbert says she doesn’t assume she will start against Spain, but hopes that she does. She is in a similar position at Chelsea, not guaranteed a game because of her age, but of huge value coming off the bench.
Signeul believes that Cuthbert can be as good as Kim Little, the difference being that the latter was a better athlete at the same age.
“When she was 17, Kim was able to cope with high intensity football,” the head coach pointed out. “That’s why she was able to go straight down to Arsenal and get a regular game in the first team.
“Erin has the same technical and tactical talent, but she’s not there yet with her fitness level. But she will be. She’s training hard.
“She made history by scoring that goal against Portugal and she will write history in the future as well.”