A jubilant Scotland celebrated wildly as they clinched their first-ever spot at a Women’s World Cup finals with a dramatic victory over Albania.
Knowing they had to better the result of Group 2 leaders Switzerland, who were away to Poland, to qualify automatically, Scots nerves were shredded as Shelley Kerr’s side clung to a 2-1 lead while the Swiss pushed for a winning goal.
Upon the news that the match had ended goalless in Poland, Kerr’s Scotland had just a matter of seconds to hold on before the referee’s whistle signalled an outpouring of emotion on the pitch.
Kim Little put Scotland ahead early on before Megi Doci levelled on the stroke of half-time.
Jane Ross’ header hit the back of the net to put the Scots back ahead against the Albanians, triggering a frantic 22 minutes for the visitors to hold on and hope Poland kept a clean sheet in Mielec.
The chance Scotland thought they wouldn’t get – analysis
Scotland faced Switzerland in Paisley on Thursday knowing a two-goal winning margin would put their destiny in their own hands.
After a tense 2-1 win, there was a sense of deflation as attempting to secure a play-off place then became a more realistic target.
Their mission was clear going into this encounter. With that play-off place a likelihood, they could afford to go all-out in attack and make sure they ended their campaign on a high.
If all went their way in Albania and Poland, the Scots would be celebrating a place at their first World Cup.
It surely could not be as simple as that – not for a country whose hopes have been dashed so often.
It remained goalless in Poland and the Scots bullied the tiring Albanians as those in attendance watched the clock. And the score elsewhere.
As the final whistle came and the sun dipped low behind the Loro Borici stadium there was disbelief. Scotland had done it.
Early goal set the tone – report
As predicted, Albania set out to close Scotland’s game down on what was a rough surface in Shkoder.
The opening goal visibly settled them though. A cross from Lisa Evans found a composed Lizzie Arnot who neatly delivered the ball into the box where Erin Cuthbert was waiting, but it was Little who seized the moment and rifled it home.
From there the Albanian debutant goalkeeper Viona Rexhepi did well to block further attempts from the creative Cuthbert and Ross for the Scots, and Manchester United forward Arnot made herself a particular nuisance for the defence.
Lee Alexander was rarely tested in the Scotland goal and perhaps that is why Kerr’s side were caught off-guard when a momentary lack of concentration allowed the hosts to level through Doci on half-time.
After a scrappy restart the Scots regained some of their earlier composure, an Emma Mitchell shot smacked off the inside of the post as they began to ramp up their attacks.
Their persistence eventually paid off in the 68th minute when a free-kick found the head of Ross to put Scotland ahead once more.
A third looked possible but instead the visitors opted to keep possession and see the game out.
‘The players respond so well to Shelley’ analysis
Former Scotland striker Julie Fleeting
It’s absolutely huge. To make history, these players taking us to a World Cup finals after such an incredible campaign is wonderful for the national side and girls’ and women’s football in general.
Shelley had taken over a fantastic squad of players from predecessor Anna Signeul. She’s put her own stamp on the squad, changed the style of play and introduced some young, exciting players.
The players respond so well to her coaching and you can see everything she asks of them, they manage to perform on the field.