There were lots of positives to take from Tuesday night when Scotland hosted Spain at Hampden in a performance that showed a marked improvement.
Preparations over the week went really well and while there was some natural apprehension after the last meeting, the team felt better equipped to take on one of the world’s best.
In the first 45 seconds, when Caroline Weir bombed into Spain’s box, we showed our intent as we earned the first of what would be a few great opportunities to expose Spain’s backline.
It was anticipated we would feel under extensive pressure in moments, and we had planned tactically and mentally for such times.
So, when they were awarded a penalty in the opening quarter-of-an-hour the team’s first big test was known – the next ten minutes were crucial in avoiding a familiar Spanish siege.
Proudly, the team more than held firm.
The opening half was largely free-flowing and both teams demonstrated moments of great play – a far different tale to that of November.
More importantly, it felt like the best collective performance since last summer.
Defensively, the team were hard to break down, which came through a combination of discipline and aggression from the opening seconds, and that galvanised the entire team as the game progressed.
In possession, there was combination play that reflected the personality of the group and that energised the record-breaking crowd of 7,804, who also played a vital role on the night.
The performance perhaps deserved something more but it’s a results-based industry, especially when it comes to qualification for major tournaments, and now we must drive forward and ensure we end the group stage on the front foot and with the points on the board.
The disappointment of the 2-0 defeat is unavoidable and the result also secured Spain’s first place finish in the group which earns them qualification to the 2023 World Cup.
A combination of a heavy loss in Spain in November, along with a missed opportunity to take three points at home against Ukraine had already made it an uphill task to finish top of the group.
Now, a play-off berth will be required in order to fight for a final place on the grandest stage again.
For that to happen, goal difference, goals scored and other complexities across group comparisons will play a factor in deciding the difficulty of our potential route – something which makes the remaining group games extremely important.
Oh bha siud faisg son Alba – Erin Cuthbert ris an oidhrip!
— BBC ALBA (@bbcalba) April 12, 2022
Mathematically, four points guarantees a spot to progress, although six would of course be better.
The remaining games will both be away from home, with the challenge of the Faroe Islands always planned to be the final game in September.
There continues to be uncertainty over the Ukraine game and the likelihood of playing in Ukraine looks increasingly impossible, although there remains optimism from UEFA of the fixture taking place in June.
This camp felt like a lot of progress and we all know we must utilise that momentum and ensure we give ourselves the best opportunity to bring Scotland back to another major tournament.
England’s relentless attacking form continues
England continue to look in strong form ahead of the summer, and undoubtedly the hosts look likely to be one of the sides tipped to go all the way.
They rounded off another two games of qualifying in exhilarating form and are yet to even concede a single goal as they boast a goal difference of +63 after only seven games played.
Wins against North Macedonia and Northern Ireland now put them in prime position to qualify for the World Cup in 2023 in Australia and New Zealand.
The 5-0 win in Northern Ireland – which took place at a sell-out Windsor Park – was yet another dominant display that impressively highlighted the depth at which the England squad has at its mercy.
I’m sure it’s a problem that Dutch head coach Sarina Wiegman is pleased to have as she hopes to earn another winners medal with a different nation, having won the Euros with her home country in 2017.
With no shortage of attacking options, there will be some disappointed players come summer, as not everyone that has played a part in the recent campaign will make the cut.
My former Notts County teammate Ellen White continues to show why she wears the number nine shirt for her country as she surpassed Harry Kane and Bobby Charlton to become the second-highest all time goal scorer, with now only Wayne Rooney ahead of her.
Beth Mead continues to prove some sceptics wrong as she has now scored three hattricks in recent qualifying. Meanwhile, Manchester City’s Lauren Hemp and United’s Ella Toone made stakes for themselves as they both played a role in three goals apiece on Tuesday night.
Scotland’s youngsters impress with the three wins
Scotland Women Under-19s rounded off their three matches last week by earning promotion to pool A.
Scotland won all of their group games, against Kazakhstan, Estonia and Kosovo, to progress back into a more superior bracket after the youth structure was modernised to a more competitive format.
Aberdeen youngster, Bayley Hutchison, continues to not only impress at her club but also in a Scotland jersey and she scored a crucial late winner against Kosovo to keep Scotland’s winning record intact as the game finished 3-2.
#SCOW19s | GOAL Scotland! Bayley Hutchison goes around the goalkeeper and cooly slots it into the empty net.
Kosovo 2-3 Scotland pic.twitter.com/e5U3zcc3TT
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) April 11, 2022
The FA Cup semi-finals will be played over the weekend, as Manchester City take on West Ham United before Arsenal face Chelsea at Sunday lunchtime.