Scotland Women: Future remains bright despite play-off defeat

Scotland suffered a damaging 2-1 defeat at home to the Netherlands in the play-off first leg
Scotland suffered a damaging 2-1 defeat at home to the Netherlands in the play-off first leg

So near, yet so far. It is a heartbreakingly familiar tale for Scotland's women.

After defeat at the hands of the Netherlands, another campaign concludes with the bitter taste of disappointment.

Just two years on from missing out on the 2013 European Championships, when they were defeated with the last kick of the ball against Spain, they were outdone at the play-off stage once more, this time with the World Cup in their sights.

Despite the dejection that accompanies such a defeat, this must not be looked upon as a failure - it does not even come close.

And, perhaps most importantly, the woman who has revolutionised the Scots has vowed to stay to guide their assault on Euro 2017.

After experiencing the gut-wrenching pain of losing at the play-off stage for the second time in succession, the question was: is Anna Signeul still motivated, or would she feel she had she taken the Scots as far as she could?

Signeul's stock has risen thanks to her work in Scotland and, with Sweden boss Pia Sundhage tipping her compatriot to succeed her one day, there was always the possibility she could seek a new challenge.

Scotland manager Anna Signeul
Swede Anna Signeul has vowed to stay on as Scotland boss to chase a spot at the 2017 Euros

But the 53-year-old insists she will "absolutely" remain in post as her work is not finished yet.

Those words will be music to the ears of anyone involved in Scottish women's football.

In her nine years in charge, Signeul has transformed the national team - taking them to their highest-ever ranking of 19 and assembling a squad able to test the best.

Her boundless enthusiasm and passion has brought a buzz like never before; girls want to play and the future is bright.

Failing to clinch a place among the elite at next summer's World Cup will undoubtedly hurt, but the progress that preceded the play-off defeat cannot be forgotten.

Since the qualification campaign started, there had been a real sense that this would be it - Canada would be where Scotland competed in their first major finals.

That belief was bolstered by the form they showed throughout, with their only two defeats coming against highly-ranked Sweden.

Kim Little scores for Scotland from the penalty spot
Kim Little scored from the spot as Scotland slipped to a 2-1 home play-off defeat to the Netherlands

Even when they were beaten to the Group 4 automatic qualifying spot by Sundhage's side, Scottish hope never wavered.

As Arsenal midfielder Caroline Weir said, they had met their own expectations by reaching the play-offs and approached the semi-final against the Dutch with the firm thought that they could go all the way. This crop feared nobody.

However, from the opening minutes of the first leg against Roger Reijners' outfit at Tynecastle, it was clear that progressing at their expense would take a monumental effort.

The gulf between the nations - with the visitors sitting 15th in the world, six places above their hosts, was evident.

Sharp, fast and organised, their free-flowing style left the Scots on the back-foot and, despite putting up a valiant fight, they faced the return trailing 2-1.

Scotland knew they had to score twice in Rotterdam or their dream would be extinguished. It was not to be.

Outclassing the visitors on the night, the Dutch only served to extend their aggregate lead by securing a 2-0 victory and, although the Scots gave everything they had, it just was not enough.

This campaign, however, has proven that there are so many positives to be taken from the strides being made, and that Scotland can look ahead with optimism.

After the final whistle in Holland. Signeul insisted that her team must make it to the Euros and that they will do it. There is no denying they are capable.

Caroline Weir celebrates after scoring against the Faroe Islands
Caroline Weir showed in the qualifying campaign that she is one of Scotland's rising stars

The last 12 months have illustrated this is a group at their peak. They know each other inside-out, battle for the cause and have developed together, as well as individually.

They have significantly benefited from the talents and presence of experienced star names such as Kim Little and Gemma Fay.

Little is one of a growing number of Scots playing professionally at club level and there has been a real difference evident, in terms of fitness and professionalism, in the squad.

However, it is not only the more seasoned names who have come to the fore. The quest for qualification has been the platform for the likes of Weir - who scored in the 9-0 rout of the Faroe Islands - to come in to the fold and show that there is a new generation ready to showcase their talents.

If they can build on the strength and positivity that have become such vital characteristics of their make-up, and also focus on nurturing the youth in this country, with Signeul at the helm, 2017 can truly be their time to shine.

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