SCOTLAND’S depressing 1-0 defeat in Portugal on Friday night delivered not only potentially catastrophic back-to-back defeats in Euro 2022 qualifying, but a third successive substandard performance.

The warning signs were clear in the 3-0 home win over Albania, as they were in the 1-0 defeat to Finland. But even so, the lack of drive and ambition at the Estadio do Restelo against the third seeds in Group E was jolting.

When the team was announced few would have had any quibbles with the selection, even if it seemed odd that Kirsty Hanson was on the left and Lisa Evans the right. With first appearances this year for Evans, Kim Little and Jen Beattie, it was a side which should have had more than enough finesse and firepower to return from Lisbon with three points.

Instead, Portuguese goalkeeper Patricia Morais barely had to make a save. Scotland’s wooden over-passing ensured the first half was played at a slow tempo, allowing the home side to grow in confidence and prove they were capable of getting in behind the back four – as they did to devastating effect when Ana Borges scored the only goal 21 minutes from time.

That close-range strike makes Finland odds-on favourites to win the group and claim the automatic qualifying place for the finals in England. They can afford to lose at Easter Road on Tuesday and take their chances on beating Portugal at home and Cyprus away (more or less a given) in February.

Although winning the group is not impossible, the likeliest lifeline to the finals for Scotland is to finish second. That would mean qualifying as one of the best three runners-up, or going into a play-off with the other five in April.

Scotland, despite being top seeds, have already lost more games in the group than they did when qualifying for Euro 2017 and last summer’s World Cup. And unfortunately, even if they do find a way to make it three-in-a-row tournaments the medium term future doesn’t look great.

As in 2017, this is a team in which a core of senior players are coming to the end of their international shelf lives. At the peak of her powers Little would have taken a game like Friday’s by the scruff of the neck and conjure a win with her individual brilliance – as she did against a better Dutch side in 2015.

The difference between 2017 and now is that young talents like Claire Emslie and Erin Cuthbert were about to burst on to the Scotland scene. They won their second and third caps respectively as substitutes in the first game of that year, a friendly against Denmark in Larnaca.

They, mercifully, will be around for a long time, as will Caroline Weir, who is a FIFA Puskas Award 2020 nominee.

But unlike three years ago there isn’t a line of young gifted players waiting impatiently to be given a chance.

Given the above, the scheduled 2021 finals being pushed back 12 months was never going to be in Scotland’s favour, even assuming qualification. The mainstays of the great recent achievements are all going to be aged 30 or over in 2022 – and the brutal truth is they are not going to be replaced by anywhere near the same quality of player.


WATCHING Friday night’s game at home while self-isolating must have been an ordeal for manager Shelley Kerr. While still able to influence events to some extent through technology, it’s night and day to standing in the technical area.

The defeat means Scotland could be on the lookout for a new head coach as early as February if results don’t work out. Kerr’s contract was due to expire at the end of Euros next summer, but according to a Scottish FA spokesman she will remain in post until the delayed finals in 2022 should Scotland qualify.

Should the opposite happen, would Kerr want to stay on? Her ideal scenario would surely have been to lead the side to a second successive finals under her leadership next summer.

Had that happened, and the team performed well in England, her stock would have been sky high for a return to club football.

The opportunity to coach players on a daily basis,
almost certainly accompanied by a higher salary, would be very tempting for a woman who will still only be 51 next summer.

Instead, and as was very much the case with Phil Neville south of the border, the delay of 12 months before the Euros are held has added all sorts of complications.