Scotland striker Jane Ross has already scored 50 goals for her country, but the next one would have a special resonance if it was against England in Utrecht tomorrow night.
The opening Group D game at the Stadion Galgenwaald, which is also Scotland’s first ever in a major championship, will see Ross pit her wits against several of her Manchester City team-mates. No fewer than eight are in the England squad and three of them, including captain and central defender Steph Houghton, are expected to line up in the back four.
Ross, in contrast, will be up front on her own in Scotland’s anticipated 4-1-4-1 formation. It promises to be a long night for the 27-year-old from Rothesay, especially as four of Scotland’s best players, including star midfielder Kim Little and another Manchester City defender, Jen Beattie, were unable to travel to the Netherlands because of injury.
A fifth, Glasgow City’s Hayley Lauder, won’t play tomorrow night either, although she is believed to be close to recovering from a minor hamstring tear.
Ross scored the second goal the last time Scotland played England in a Cyprus Cup game back in 2013. The match was a classic, ending 4-4, and Ross says: “From my experience of playing England it has always been close games. That game swung both ways, but this time we have different squads and I think it will be an enjoyable match.
“In terms of their ranking, England are now up there with the top teams. I’ve been feeling good in training and we’ll respect them – but won’t fear them.
”We have a good squad, so we’ll go out there to perform to the best of our ability. If we can get that right we’ve got a good chance.”
England, who were runners-up in Euro 2009, had a really poor tournament in Sweden four years ago, finishing bottom of the group. One consequence was the removal of long-time head coach Hope Powell and the installation of Mark Sampson, the new man leading England to third place in the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
One of Sampson’s first acts was to make Houghton his captain, and Ross says of her team-mate and tomorrow night’s direct opponent: “She’s obviously a top-class player. She’s very good for our club and England as well, so I’m sure she’ll be looking to make it as difficult as possible for us.”
Ross will have her proud parents, brother, sister and friends all in attendance tomorrow night, while many more will watch the game in the pub which the family run in Rothesay. To play England in Scotland’s first-ever match in a major tournament will be the pinnacle of her career so far. “It’s amazing,” she smiles. “You can see from everyone’s faces that they’re loving every minute of being here. We’ve finally achieved our goal after so many near misses.
“There was a lot of banter with my England team-mates when the draw was made and for a few months afterwards, but recently all my focus has been on the national team.”
Ross’s 50th Scotland goal arrived last month in the friendly against Romania at Falkirk Stadium. She is only the second Scot, after Julie Fleeting, to reach that landmark and she now also has 106 caps. Her achievements prove what hard work can achieve, because she was not one of Scotland’s better players at under-19 level.
Scotland head coach Anna Signeul has revealed that she and her players have been inundated with messages of support. Those sending good luck wishes include Rod Stewart, actor Gerard Butler, Judy Murray, Gordon Strachan, Robert Snodgrass and Andy Robertson.
l First minister Nicola Sturgeon and Erin Cuthbert, the youngest player in Scotland’s squad, hope to have cause for very special birthday celebrations in Utrecht tomorrow.
Both were born on July 19 and Sturgeon, the team’s patron, will be at the Stadion Galdenwaard for the match against England. Sturgeon said: “As the proud patron of the national women’s football team I cannot think of a better way to spend my birthday than to cheer them on for this very important game against England.