by Stephen Findlater
Scotland’s Kareena Cuthbert feels it is only a matter of time before her country manages to make the breakthrough against top sides in Europe and breach the top four. In 2013 and 2015, their story was of agonising near misses with single goal defeats defining their group stages against the top nations before they rallied in the relegation to finish sixth both times.
Indeed, in 12 attempts, Scotland have ended up in sixth place six times, only once doing better with a fifth place all the way back in 1991 and so the desire is very much to push beyond those limits.
In Boom, the Scots fell 1-0 to Germany and Spain before pushing England all the way to a 2-1 defeat. Two years later, it was a similar tale with Cuthbert – under her maiden name Marshall – netted a memorable goal to put Scotland 1-0 up against the English. Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh turned things around that day before Germany edged out Scotland 2-1, though, to add to their list of close calls. But Cuthbert says that producing more moments like that can see Scotland cause some serious waves in Amsterdam and move beyond their previous limits.
“That goal has to go down as one of my all time favourite moments,” she said. “Not only to score agaisnt the Auld Enemy but my mum, brother and husband were sitting right behind the goal! It’s moments like that that make all the hard work worthwhile. The challenge is to build more and more of these moments as a Scotland team and make the breakthrough into the top four in Europe.”
At the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Brussels this summer, Scotland showed they can be quick on the counter with Cuthbert adding that they will always be “difficult to break down and we will fight hard for every ball”. It showed against China in a 1-1 draw but a frustrating loss to Italy – by that recurring 2-1 scoreline – put paid to their hopes of playing at London 2018.
“It’s always a tough one to take when we have the aspirations to compete at the World Cup. There is a fine line at this level between making it and not. We have taken great confidence from our performances throughout all of our games at HWL and now the aim is to tighten up in crucial spells of games to make those fine margins favour us.”
Since then, Scotland have played a test series against Russia and another one against France takes place this weekend. The panel are able to give the European Championships full focus with their day-jobs being put on-hold for the time-being.
“This gives us the chance to fine tune some details with the final squad prior to going to the tournament. We are currently in a full-time training phase which allows the majority of the squad to give up their jobs for a short spell of time and commit to a training programme. This increased contact time on the pitch and as a squad helps us unite and tries to close the gap on the other teams that are full time players. We currently have a pool of about 25 players fighting for selection, this makes it a healthy competition for all lines. There is varying degrees of experience within our squad with some of our less experienced girls are really stepping up and being counted for.”
As for Amsterdam, they face Germany and England yet again as well as Ireland. The two sides know each other incredibly well, playing numerous friendly matches each year. Indeed, Scottish goalkeeper Lucy Camlin came through the Irish system, playing up to Under-21 level before moving to Scotland for university. The Scots relegated Ireland in 2013 with a 3-1 result the last time they met at this level but Cuthbert says Ireland will get no special treament as they target each group game for points.
“It has always been a close fought battle with Ireland and this year’s Euros will be no different. However, we have our game plan and we will take it to all teams in our section, as with tournament hockey there can be surprise results and we don’t fear any of the teams in our section, we will be going out to take points from all games.”
Tickets are still available. The openingweekend and the finals of the Rabo EuroHockey Championships will be played in front of a packed stadium: all weekend days are already sold out.