Remembering the tenure of the Scottish history maker
September 4, 2018 marked a historic chapter in Scottish football history.
While two years later, the men’s team headed for their first major tournament in 23 years with a famous penalty shootout victory, the women’s team had spent the past two years creating their own little pieces of history.
In September 2016, they qualified for their very first major tournament, but would exit the group stages of the competition agonizingly due to their head-to-head record.
Longtime manager Anna Signeul – who had been at the helm for 12 years – had announced that she was stepping down ahead of the tournament, leaving some pretty important shoes to fill.
Former Arsenal coach Shelley Kerr was deemed the fit to fill them and, in September 2018, she then guided Scotland to World Cup qualification.
On Christmas Eve, after Scotland’s failure to qualify for the 2022 European Championships, Kerr announced she was stepping down, ending three eventful years at the helm.
2018 was the first time in 21 years that Scotland had reached the World Cup final – and the first time in history that the women’s team had reached the biggest stage.
They did so under the most dramatic circumstances.
Scotland knew that beating Switzerland by a two-goal margin in their penultimate group stage game would leave qualification in their hands.
They filled the first half of the market by winning – but only 2-1. Heading into their final group game against Albania, it looked like Scotland would have to settle for the playoffs.
Scotland were leading 2-1 in the dying minutes of their clash with Albania, Kim Little’s opener being called off by Megi Doci before Jane Ross returned home in the second half.
But Switzerland were held to a goalless draw in Poland – and Scotland just must have seen the game come to an end as the clock ticked agonizingly. They succeeded, the referee’s permanent whistle triggering a wave of emotion.
29 years after receiving her first international selection for Scotland as a player, Kerr had led her country to the World Cup.
As was the case at Euro 2017, Scotland were drawn in the same group as England for France 2019.
Two years earlier, Scotland had suffered a 6-0 defeat. The Scots sidelined Little and Jen Beattie with injury – full members of the squad – but the classroom divide was clear.
But when facing the rivals in the World Cup opener, the improvements Kerr’s team made were surprising. England led 2-0 at halftime and had comfortably been the better team (even though the Lionesses’ opening was the result of a fortuitous penalty), but in the second half Scotland really made it sweaty. Phil Neville’s team. Scotland moved back 11 minutes from time thanks to Claire Emslie, but despite a rallying effort, they left Nice empty-handed.
A narrow 2-1 loss to the 2011 world champions followed – with another questionable penalty – meaning it all comes down to the last group stage game against Argentina. Win, and Scotland stood a chance to advance to the round of 16 as the top third-place team.
The nerves that had hampered Scotland’s previous performances were gone as Kerr’s side attacked Argentina from the start.
They were brave and adventurous, Caroline Weir demonstrating her class and Erin Cuthbert announcing herself to the tournament with a fabulous display. The Chelsea youngster was on the scoresheet, as were Little and Beattie as the Scots ended up 3-0 with 21 minutes of normal time remaining.
And then the improbable, the heartbreaking and the VAR happened.
Argentina pulled one out in the 74th minute, and it was 3-2 five minutes later when Florencia Bonsegundo’s shot was taken off the bar and Scottish goalkeeper Lee Alexander.
Scotland appear to have dodged the fear and held on, but Argentina got a penalty in added time. Remarkably, he was saved by Alexander – only for VAR to order a revival.
Bonsegundo was sent on the second request and Scotland – and Argentina – were eliminated.
Kerr admitted to the naivety of handling the game on his side after their collapse in the final 20 minutes.
Those responsible for Kerr’s story were unable to replicate the exploits of their previous qualifying campaign – their Euro 2022 qualifying chances were played in typical, Scottish, heart-wrenching style as they conceded a goal in the 95th minute to Finland.
“I’ve lived and breathed the sport for as long as I can remember, so I know in my heart that the time has come for a new head coach to take the team forward for the next campaign,” Kerr said in a statement issued by the Scottish FA, announcing his resignation from the role.
“I have devoted almost four years to the role of national coach. Having spent my life in football and working at all levels of the course this has been the pinnacle so far to have the opportunity to work with such a fantastic team of players.
“In the beginning we wanted to inspire the nation by implementing a style of football that is both exciting and fun – and I think we got there.”