BY ROB McCARRY
Scotlandâ€™s women have an almost unprecedented opportunity heading into next weekâ€™s international double header to make it to a major international championship with games against Sweden and Northern Ireland. Having a perfect record so far as they approach this crucial week, there is hope throughout the team that the heartbreak of last summerâ€™s agonising play-off loss to Spain can be extinguished and a major step towards Canada 2015 can be taken.
As well as national coach and native Swede Anna Signeul’s invaluable insight ahead of Saturdays clash with the former European champions, Scotland also boast four international stars who currently play for Vittsjo GIK in the Damallsvenskan; Ifeoma Dieke, Hayley Lauder and Shannon Lynn and Scotland’s current qualifying campaign leading scorer, Jane Ross.
With nine goals in the six matches so far and hat-tricks in two of the last three which include her performance away to Bosnia-Herzegovina where her goals turned a one goal deficit into a 3-1 victory, Ross has been playing superbly well and I caught up with her to discuss her form this season and thoughts on the fixtures on the horizon.
Talking initially about the changes she has seen since transferring from Glasgow City at the end of 2012 she has noticed several differences from the game she left behind.
â€Moving to Sweden has shown me not only a different culture but has given me the chance to experience a different style of football. The game over there is much more physical which I donâ€™t simply put down to the natives. There are a lot of different nationalities that play in the league and I feel that has created an environment with a lot more strength, speed and endurance and also being a full-time, professional set-up has helped all the players dedicate themselves more to their training than would otherwise be possibleâ€.
â€œIn Sweden I really like the lifestyle and the people. Iâ€™m trying to pick up the language, itâ€™s not so easy! As a result itâ€™s nice to have other Scottish players that I see often and am able to have a bit of banter with as thatâ€™s really helped me to settle in. Itâ€™s nice to feel a little bit of home away from home and be able to speak Scottish to people that understand youâ€
Asked if she felt this gave her an advantage ahead of the game against Sweden she was keen to stress that all the players in the squad were in the same boat heading into Saturdayâ€™s fixture.
â€œI feel that all the players in the Scotland squad play club football to a similarly high level, although I will admit to having come up against some of the national team players playing domestic football so I am aware of how good and they are and how big a challenge they will pose. Sweden have a lot of good players who possess many different qualities and I donâ€™t doubt that everyone in the camp will be well briefed on what and who to look out forâ€
Considering she has been averaging a goal and a half in the six matches so far and hitting double figures in the league since her transfer it would be reasonable to assume that Jane has hit upon a rich vein of form ahead of these two massive games.
â€œIâ€™m very happy with the way Iâ€™ve been playing; although taking on different roles domestically and internationally and that may be part of the reason Iâ€™ve had so many chances for the national team. I feel very confident in my playing at the moment and will be approaching the opening fixture feeling goodâ€
â€œA personal highlight would be hitting my first international hat-trick against Poland but the most pleasing aspect of the campaign so far has been reaching this stage of qualifying with six wins out of sixâ€
Mathematically speaking Scotland could all but assure qualification with victories in their next two matches but such forward thinking isnâ€™t being allowed to creep into the thoughts of any of the players.
â€œWeâ€™re just taking each game as it comes and not getting ahead of ourselves, every game is obviously worth the same three points for the victory but with Sweden being top seeds in our group and also having maximum points we recognise the importance of the match itself but we still have three qualifiers after that [including Sweden away from home] so weâ€™ll be taking each match as it comesâ€.
The growth of the game for Scottish women has been reflected at all ranks but itâ€™s most notable at international level where the biggest waves are being made as the team have climbed to an all-time high ranking of 19th in the world and 11th in Europe and many theories have been put forward as to why the improvement has been so dramatic. Jane has no doubt the impact the fans have had in helping the game to prosper.
â€œAttendances have increased even from the last qualifying campaign and the fact that they are developing and growing is definitely a good thing.â€
â€œHaving always loved playing football, itâ€™s also great to see a rise in the number of clubs and involvement at grass roots level and an increase which has probably overseen an increase in the number of girls playing as well as an increase in opportunities for them at school which makes it easier for them to participate and the success of sides like Glasgow City has attracted more young women to take up the game.â€
The team spirit is a huge factor in the success of any side and Jane finished up by explaining why this group is so close knit.
â€œIn the National team we have a great camaraderie and because weâ€™ve known each other for so many years itâ€™s always fun when we get togetherâ€.
As fans we can only hope that that bond is enough to get the results needed to take us across the Atlantic next year.
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