Shelley Kerr and her players faced a long trip to Albania, via London, yesterday, and were only due to arrive at their hotel in Shkoder in the early hours of this morning. The compensation was that a first-ever World Cup appearance could await them on Tuesday.
The 2-1 win over Group 2 top seeds Switzerland in Paisley fell agonisingly short of putting qualification for France in their own hands, but the three points ensured that a draw in Albania will take them into the four nation play-offs for the finals.
That, however, is not the focus of the head coach, who believes Switzerland are vulnerable in their final qualifier against Poland and that her side can still qualify by winning the group. “I’ve said for some time now this game is a tough one for Switzerland,” said Kerr, pictured below. “I know people will say Poland have nothing to play for, but that takes the pressure off them and can be a good thing, especially in front of their own fans. They can play without any fear.”
Proof that the Poles have not lost purpose, despite being out of the running for the finals themselves, came on Friday when they won their penultimate qualifier 4-1 in Belarus. Star striker Ewa Pajor scored twice on her return from injury.
Both Scotland and Switzerland have 18 points going into their last games, but if their results are identical on Tuesday – the games are being played at the same time – it is the Swiss who will go to France. That’s because the head-to-head between the sides ended 2-2, with Lara Dickenmann’s away goal in Paisley making the crucial difference.
Although an additional goal on Thursday night, or preventing the one the Swiss captain scored, would have been the ideal outcome, there was nevertheless much for the head coach and the record home crowd of 4,098 to be delighted about as the top seeds were beaten courtesy of a dream start provided by Erin Cuthbert and Kim Little.
“Both were exceptional,” Kerr confirmed of the Chelsea and Arsenal attackers. “They had a great understanding and were outstanding higher up the pitch.
“Overall, and given the magnitude of the game and the quality of the opposition, it was, without the shadow of a doubt, the best we’ve played as a team since I’ve come in. It was a tough, tough game and on reflection I think 2-1 was the right result. There were some dangerous moments on the counter when they could easily have caught us.”
Confirmation that a draw in Shkoder will be good enough to make the play-offs arrived when England beat Wales 3-0 in Newport the following night.
The result took England into the finals but meant that Wales, who started the night top of Group 1 and would have qualified themselves with a win, have ended the campaign with 17 points – one less than Scotland and Switzerland already have.